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Molecular genetic techniques have found broad utility in modern marine ecology, and applications continue to grow. Databases of DNA sequences now permit nonexperts to identify eggs and larval stages of many marine animals that were previously mysteries. Molecular identifications of field-collected organisms and tissues are used to help assess population connectivity, investigate marine food webs, and identify marketed commodities. Advances in technology already include prototype development of in situ robotic instrumentation for sampling and molecular identification of animal larvae. Studies of population connectivity, once limited to a few gene loci, are slowly giving way to new genomic arrays of markers and high-throughput methodologies for scoring genotypes. Population genetic theory is providing new computational techniques to assess patterns of population structure, estimate effective population sizes, and infer aspects of demographic history. In this article I review a subset of recent work in this growing area of molecular marine ecology.
In 2002, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a decision “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss.” Comprehensive assessment of the progress toward this “significant reduction” is rare at the national level. We therefore developed national indicators and time-series data sets to evaluate whether China had made progress toward the 2010 biodiversity target, and found that considerable progress has been made: Forest resources have increased stably since 1989, the integrity of marine ecosystems has improved since 1997, water quality has remained stable, and desertified land is less extensive than it used to be as a result of various conservation initiatives. However, trends toward the loss of grasslands, threatened species, and genetic resources were not effectively checked. It is imperative that China undertake a more active and integrated strategy for biodiversity conservation to stem projected increases in wastewater discharges, nutrient loading, invasive alien species, and climate change.
Harvesting timber is a common form of land use that has the potential to cause declines in amphibian populations. It is essential to understand the behavior and fate of individuals and the resulting consequences for vital rates (birth, death, immigration, emigration) under different forest management conditions. We report on experimental studies conducted in three regions of the United States to identify mechanisms of responses by pond-breeding amphibians to timber harvest treatments. Our studies demonstrate that life stages related to oviposition and larval performance in the aquatic stage are sometimes affected positively by clearcutting, whereas effects on juvenile and adult terrestrial stages are mostly negative. Partial harvest treatments produced both positive and weaker negative responses than clearcut treatments. Mitigating the detrimental effects of canopy removal, higher surface temperature, and loss of soil-litter moisture in terrestrial habitats surrounding breeding ponds is critical to maintaining viable amphibian populations in managed forested landscapes.
Forest loss in the tropics is one of the most critical contemporary environmental problems. Understanding the complex sociopolitical and ecological forces operative in producing this problem has thus become an important scientific mandate. Some recent literature has suggested that modern market economy trends in Latin America—namely, rural out-migration and policies strongly favoring high-input, industry-based agriculture—have helped curtail and sometimes revert the net loss of tropical forests, mainly through afforestation of land abandoned by smallholders. Government in Mexico, a megadiverse country with one of the biggest out-migration and remittance economies in the world, has excelled in applying free-market policies and in discouraging historical smallholder agriculture. Our analysis of Mexico's development path and of recent deforestation and reforestation trends at the national, regional, and local levels shows that, contrary to expectations, net deforestation is still occurring, and that other development, agricultural, and reforestation strategies are needed.
Plant biosecurity activities in the United States fall along a continuum ranging from offshore activities to the management of newly established exotic pests. For each step in the continuum, we examine the roles, responsibilities, and information needs of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and other agencies involved in plant biosecurity. Both costs and information needs increase dramatically as a pest penetrates deeper into the continuum. To help meet these information needs, we propose a cyberinfrastructure for plant biosecurity to link phytosanitary agencies, researchers, and stakeholders, including industry and the public. The cyberinfrastructure should facilitate data collection, data integration, risk analysis, and reporting. We also emphasize the role of private industry in providing critical data for surveillance. We anticipate that this article will provide agricultural stakeholders, including scientists, with a better understanding of the information needs of phytosanitary organizations, and will ultimately lead to a more coordinated biosecurity effort.
The idea of evolution by natural selection formulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace is a cornerstone of modern biology, yet few biology students or professionals are familiar with the processes of discovery behind the idea. Focusing on Darwin, I draw on letters, notebooks, and other resources to trace key insights and put them into historical context, illustrating how major elements of Darwin's theory came to him over many years. I further consider how Darwin came to formulate the logical argument structure of his Origin of Species, discussing the philosophical arguments inherent in the book's structure and how this and Darwin's other works can be seen as part of a larger argument and way of looking at the world. I suggest that in teaching evolution today, educators could profitably draw on both Darwin's personal intellectual journey in coming to his ideas, and the compelling argument structure he devised in presenting his theory.
Undergraduate theses and other capstone research projects are standard features of many science curricula, but participation has typically been limited to only the most advanced and highly motivated students. With the recent push to engage more undergraduates in research, some faculty are finding that their typical approach to working with thesis writers is less effective, given the wider diversity of students, or is inefficient, given the higher participation rates. In these situations, a more formal process may be needed to ensure that all students are adequately supported and to establish consistency in how student writers are mentored and assessed. To address this need, we created BioTAP, the Biology Thesis Assessment Protocol, a teaching and assessment tool. BioTAP includes a rubric that articulates departmental expectations for the thesis and a guide to the drafting-feedback-revision process that is modeled after the structure of professional scientific peer review. In this article we (a) describe BioTAP's parts and the rationale behind them, (b) present the results of a study of the rubric's interrater reliability, (c) describe how the development of BioTAP helped us create a faculty learning community, and (d) suggest how other departments and institutions can adapt BioTAP to suit their needs.