Member Highlight: The Beach Time Capsule

2017-06-29T09:32:55+00:00 June 29, 2017|
Western snowy plovers break down the kelp wrack that washes ashore. Credit: Nick Schooler

(Click to enlarge) Western snowy plovers break down the kelp wrack that washes ashore.
(Credit: Nick Schooler)

And to think it was all right there in her garage.

A load of boxes pulled from biologist Dale Straughan’s home yielded a veritable treasure trove for UC Santa Barbara researchers studying the impact of climate change on coastal biodiversity in California.

(From Science Daily) — To Jenifer Dugan, a research biologist at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute (MSI), Nicholas Schooler, a Ph.D. student in UCSB’s Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Marine Science, and David Hubbard, an ecologist at MSI, Straughan’s field notes and data on California beaches were scientific gold. Beginning in 2009, the UCSB team worked closely with Straughan to compare present-day results to her original data sets. They resurveyed a subset of the more than 60 California beaches from Morro Bay to San Diego that Straughan and her colleagues had surveyed on multiple dates from 1969 to 1980.

Because Earth’s climate has changed dramatically since then, the researchers sought to determine whether and how biodiversity had decreased and to explore the processes responsible. Their findings appear in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

“Coastal ecosystems can be valuable indicators of biodiversity responses to anthropogenic and climate change-related impacts,” said co-author Dugan. “We used this unique data set from extensive intertidal surveys to evaluate multidecadal change in the biodiversity of the important and widespread coastal ecosystems of sandy beaches.”

Co-author Straughan conducted the original surveys for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management following the 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel. At the time, she was based at the University of Southern California’s Allan Hancock Foundation. One of the sites she surveyed more than 33 times was located in Isla Vista, close to the UCSB campus.

Evaluating impacts to biodiversity requires ecologically informed comparisons over sufficient time spans. One challenge for the UCSB team was calibrating different sampling methods from different decades. They developed a novel extrapolation approach to address data gaps that are common in such long-term data sets by adjusting species richness for sampling style over various time periods. This approach could be useful in addressing similar questions for other understudied ecosystems.

The investigators evaluated changes in intertidal biodiversity over time, using Straughan’s results and those from their own recent surveys of 13 of her sandy beach sites, including the one in Isla Vista. Their analyses revealed large increases or decreases in species richness at some beaches, while at others changes were very small or not detectable.

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