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News Release| Cooperative Institute on Marine Ecosystems and Climate; Cal State L.A.

August 5, 2010

Note to editors and reporters: Contact the Cal State L.A. Public Affairs office at (323) 343-3050 to arrange interviews with CSULA Professors Carlos Robles or Patrick Krug.

CSULA researchers examine an overlooked aspect of climate change: effects of altered rainfall on coastal marine populations

 Cal State L.A. named partner of a new Cooperative Institute

on Marine Ecosystems and Climate


Picture of CSULA students with Biological Sciences Professor Carlos Robles conducting field research..
CSULA students with Biological Sciences Professor Carlos Robles (l) conducting field research.

Los Angeles, CA – With its national reputation for diversity-focused education in the environmental sciences, California State University, Los Angeles has been named as a partner of a new research institute established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Cal State L.A. team will conduct projects exploring how predicted changes in sea surface salinity might affect latitudinal species distributions and alter the behavior of key predators in coastal communities. The work will be one component of a comprehensive investigation of climate and its impacts on Pacific Ocean communities undertaken by the new NOAA consortium called the Cooperative Institute on Marine Ecosystems and Climate (CIMEC).  

According to CSULA Biology Professor Carlos Robles, a member of the Cooperative Institute Leadership Council, “Cal State L.A. students and faculty will focus on how altered rainfall might affect coastal marine populations. Many marine organisms are known to be sensitive to brackish or briny water, but how near-shore marine communities might be affected by shifts in fresh water run-off with global climate has received little attention.”  

The five-year $55 million federally-funded CIMEC is based at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA. The CIMEC aims to foster collaborations between NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center on the Scripps campus and its academic partners, consisting of Cal State L.A., UC San Diego, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, and Humboldt State.

Picture of graduate student researcher Matthew Garchow and Assistant Professor Patrick Krug collect algae patches to bring back to the lab..
L-r: CSULA graduate student Matthew Garchow and Professor Patrick Krug collecting algae patches to bring back to the laboratory.

“Cal State L.A. was selected in order to capitalize on its existing strengths in diversity-focused geosciences education to support NOAA’s efforts to develop a diverse workforce,” said Robles. “Each year, six CSULA research fellows would receive intense training in projects addressing the themes of global climate research and ecosystem management. There will also be two internships at Scripps and Southwest Fisheries Science Center that will offer students experience in marine conservation policy or training.”

Robles, who is currently conducting field research at Bamfield Marine Science Centre in Barkley Sounds, British Columbia, is testing whether coastal gradients in salinity affect the activities of a keystone predator, the sea star Pisaster ochraceus, in response to changes in watershed discharge. Altering the effectiveness of a key predator can transform the structure of entire shore communities, said Robles. A combination of lab and field experiments, on-shore miniaturized salinity monitors, and computer simulations of sea-surface flows are utilized to examine the role of salinity gradients in shaping predator activity patterns and prey population distributions resulting from altered rainfall predicted for climate change. 

In another research project, led by CSULA Biology Professor Patrick Krug, common marine molluscs will be used as an exemplary system to study the impact of changing salinity on latitudinal distributions. Two closely-related species of sea slugs have abutting north-south latitudinal limits near San Francisco Bay. Krug indicated that the boundary between the two seasonally shifts south following rainfall events that favor the northern species, which shows a greater tolerance for brackish water incursions. 

“Many coastal species have shifted their ranges northward in the last 50 years,” said Krug, “but we know very little about how temperature, rainfall and competition limit where you find a given organism. Using our model system, students will collect data and develop methods to predict how marine animals will respond to ongoing climate change.”

Additionally, CSULA Geography Professor Hengchun Ye will be providing assistance for both research related to problems of climate change.

Overall, the CIMEC will serve larger objectives:

  •      to collect and analyze data to improve understanding of climate processes globally and within the southwestern U.S. marine environment
  •      to expand knowledge of ocean and atmospheric processes associated with climate change and its impacts on various spatial and temporal scales;
  •      to better understand marine ecosystem structure and function, to forecast algal blooms and fish and beach contamination, and to protect threatened species; and
  •      to develop human coastal communities that are resilient to climate change and understand the relationships between these communities and natural ecosystems. 

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. For the NOAA press release:

For the past decade, the CSULA campus has garnered a national reputation for diversity-focused education in the environmental sciences with hundreds of journal articles and abstracts published with student coauthors, with over 40 graduates accepted to environmental science Ph.D. programs or placed in agency positions, and the founding of a cross-department master’s degree to support interdisciplinary environmental science training. Much of this progress was made under CEA-CREST, a National Science Foundation-funded center at Cal State L.A. that concluded its 10-year lifespan in 2009. The University’s CIMEC partnership would continue to build on this history of success.

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