Putting endangered wildlife in a corner

Photo by Aziz Saltik (flickr)

Our new paper on extinction risk in marine and terrestrial species is out today in PNAS, “Range contraction enables harvesting to extinction.” Led by Matthew Burgess at UCSB, the research shows that shrinking distributions puts many animals at further risk from extinction as their abundance decline. While harvesters (fishers or hunters) are typically expected to stop harvesting when a species becomes rare and the costs of harvest become too high, contraction of a species into dense clusters can keep harvesting profitable, even at very low abundance. Examples of species with these contractions include Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, and bluefin tunas.

News coverage:

Ed at the EcoSummit in Montpelier

tekwa_talk_slideEd was at the EcoSummit conference in Montpellier (Sept. 1) to present “Why do fisheries evolve different harvest rates?”.  The conference theme was Engineering Sustainability, but covered a wide range of sustainability topics. Also a nice chance to drink some wine and visit with Michel Loreau!

Multiple PhD and postdoctoral positions in climate change ecology and evolution

Multiple PhD and postdoctoral positions in climate change ecology and evolution

Three postdoctoral positions and one PhD position are available in the Pinsky Lab at Rutgers University to work on climate change ecology and evolution in marine ecosystems. The positions represent an exciting expansion of research efforts in this area. Broadly, research in the Pinsky Lab uses empirical data, mathematical models, and population genomics to study global change in the coastal ocean.

Key themes across all new positions include understanding the ecological and evolutionary processes that determine how climate variability and climate change filter through ocean communities to affect human behavior and the success or failure of conservation efforts. Postdocs and students will join an international network of collaborators across conservation, marine science, climate science, economics, sociology, and policy, including Josh Abbott (Arizona State U.), Daniel Schindler and Andre Punt (U. Washington), Dan Holland and Melissa Poe (NOAA), William Cheung and Daniel Pauly (U. British Columbia), Jorge Sarmiento (Princeton), Carl Folke (Stockholm U.), and Pat Halpin (Duke).

Three (3) postdoc positions are open:

1) Coupled Natural Human (CNH) systems postdoc: The postdoc will take the lead on a research project investigating the causes and consequences of ecological synchrony in the California Current large marine ecosystem. Key questions include how portfolio effects emerge in open systems and how oceanographic processes and fishing interact to affect population dynamics. The postdoc will also be part of a broader NSF-funded team studying coupled social-ecological dynamics and feedbacks from physics to fish to people.

2) Nereus Fellow: As part of the Nereus Program (http://www.nereusprogram.org), the Fellow will design and lead empirical research to understand the consequences of climate change and shifting species distributions for human behavior and adaptation in marine ecosystems. Resources for the research include large datasets of fishing vessel behavior over decadal time-scales, as well as other datasets on environmental changes and ecological states.

3) Eco-evolutionary dynamics postdoc: The postdoc will develop models and theory to understand the extent to which ecological turnover and evolutionary rescue could preserve coral reef function over the coming centuries, and whether conservation efforts can facilititate the adaptation process at the landscape scale. Application of the theory to case studies in three geographies will also be part of the research.

All postdoc positions are two years.

One (1) graduate assistant position is open, preferably for a Ph.D. degree:

1) CNH Graduate Assistant: The GA will use statistical and process-based models to understand the mechanisms linking climate variability to marine animal population dynamics in the California Current large marine ecosystem, including recruitment and distribution. The GA will also be part of a broader NSF-funded team studying coupled social-ecological dynamics and feedbacks from physics to fish to people.

Across all positions, the ideal candidates will be skilled with data analysis, statistics, and ecological modeling (or a strong aptitude for learning these skills, in the case of the GA). Applicants with evidence of creativity, productivity, strong oral and written communication abilities, and enthusiasm are especially encouraged to apply, particularly those that bring a new perspective, new ideas, or a new skillset to the team. For postdoctoral applications, a promising record of publication is highly valued. The successful applicants will be independent, motivated problem solvers who communicate well and enjoy working in a collaborative setting.

The positions will be based at Rutgers with extensive opportunities for research visits across campuses, including U. Washington, U. British Columbia, and NOAA offices. Additional opportunities are available to interact with scientists at  the Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences; the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab; the Princeton Environmental Institute; the Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science; and beyond.

**Application process**

The postdoc start dates are flexible and the positions are open until filled. The GA will begin in summer or fall 2017. Review of postdoc applications will begin on October 1, 2016 and will continue on a rolling basis. Review of GA applications will continue until December 2016, when applications to Rutgers graduate programs are due.

Interested postdoc candidates should submit: 1) a one­-page cover letter that describes which position(s) they are applying for (and preferred position if applying to more than one) and their preferred start date, 2) a two­-page research statement describing their relevant background and anticipated research approach to the problem they would be addressing, 3) a CV, and 4) the names and contact information of three other scientists familiar with their work.

GA applicants should include a 1-2 page cover letter describing their interests, CV, a recent transcript, GRE scores, and contact information for three references. Qualified GA candidates will be contacted and encouraged to apply to the graduate program in either Ecology & Evolution (http://ecoevo.rutgers.edu/) or Oceanography (http://marine.rutgers.edu/main/IMCS-Academics/Graduate-Program-in-Oceanography.html), depending on student interests. Ph.D. applications to Rutgers are due in December.

Please submit all materials to malin.pinsky@rutgers.edu with “Postdoc application 2016” or “Graduate application 2016” as the subject.

Malin Pinsky
Assistant Professor
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

Come see us at Ocean Sciences!

OSM_2016Nearly the whole lab and many collaborators will be at Ocean Sciences in New Orleans next week talking about our work!



Ph.D. position open in coral reef metapopulation dynamics

IMG_1011_modWe’re looking for good Ph.D. applicants! We have a Ph.D. position open to research marine metapopulation dynamics using field work combined with population genomics. Our research group has interests in marine ecology, population genetics/genomics, climate change, biogeography, dispersal, and fisheries. Student projects will generally overlap with these areas, but independent thinking and new ideas are strongly encouraged.

Potential projects include (but are not limited to) questions of metapopulation dynamics, demography, dispersal, local adaptation, thermal physiology, and implications for marine reserve design. We do extensive fieldwork in the Philippines with clownfish, and excellent opportunities exist to build from four years of existing data. Projects would likely involve a mix of field work, genomic wet lab work, bioinformatics, and ecological modeling. Enthusiasm, drive, excellent written and oral communication abilities, and strong quantitative skills are necessary. Scientific diving certification is encouraged, but training can occur during the graduate program.

Interested candidates should send an email to malin.pinsky@rutgers.edu describing their motivation and research interests along with a CV, GPA, GRE scores (if available), and three references. In-progress applications to external fellowships are viewed favorably. Qualified candidates will be contacted and encouraged to apply to the graduate program in either Ecology & Evolution or Oceanography, depending on student interests. This is a funded position, though Ph.D. students will be encouraged to apply for external fellowships.

Breeding like rabbits doesn’t work for fish

Fast-growing fish like these sardines are more sensitive to excessive harvest than other, slower-growing species, contrary to common patterns on land. Photo credit: John Loo (CC BY 2.0). https://flic.kr/p/9HwkEr

We have a new paper out in Proceedings B, “Fishing, fast growth and climate variability increase the risk of collapse.” Analyzing data from fisheries around the world, we show that patterns in the ocean are nearly the opposite of those on land. Slow-growing species like lions and tigers may be most at risk of extinction on land, but in the ocean, it’s the “rabbits” that are most sensitive. We find that fast-growing species like flounder and sardines are more than three times more likely to collapse when they experience overfishing than their slower-growing cousins. Populations that experience strong climate variability are also more at risk.

Tim Essington also had a nice paper exploring some of these patterns among small pelagic species earlier this year. Definitely worth a read, plus the following discussion (here and here).

Some of the coverage:

Malin on NPR

Malin talked yesterday for an hour with Marty Moss-Coane from WHYY’s Radio Times about the marine defaunation paper we had in January (interview here). Boris Worm (Dalhousie) joined the conversation as well and was a wonderful addition. He’s a very articulate spokesperson for the oceans!


A flurry of presentations

  • Ryan gave at talk at the ASLO meeting on February 25 in Grenada, Spain, “Long-term changes in North American coastal communities.”
  • Malin presented a poster at the Kavli Frontiers of Science meeting in Jerusalem on February 24.
  • Jim talked on a panel affiliated with the March SAFMC meeting about our new project on Southeast Atlantic climate impact on fish.
  • Malin’s off to Brazil to give two talks at the Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Oceans conference (March 22 and 25).

aslosafmcICES_logo_organizers PICES_logo_organizers

Change Is In The [Water]

From Patrick Flanagan, Ph.D student in Oceanography, while doing fieldwork in the Philippines last week:

IMG_2060_smThere’s not much to listen to while scuba diving… mostly your own bubbles, and the Rice Krispies pops and crackles of coral-munching fish and disgruntled snapping shrimp. If they made underwater headphones, I’d totally be rocking out like Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, or getting into my Steve Zissou groove, while I spend my hours searching for and tagging anemones and clownfish.

But the quiet found, as you slowly glide over vast expanses of reef, pausing to observe an odd creature or jot down some notes, is definitely good for a little meditation.

Specifically, thinking about change.

I used to worry a lot about change. When I worked on Coho salmon restoration and marine science education in California, I was exasperated with the plight of the dwindling endangered fish, frustrated with the amount of pollution, habitat destruction, and overfishing I saw, despondent over the swelling tidal wave of climate change coming to natural systems everywhere. It was paralyzing, and heartbreaking. I cared so much that it made me not want to care any more, which was contrary to my nature.

I decided to take a small step outside of my feelings about change, and instead put on my scientist hat and start thinking about change. I did my best to try to observe how the natural world is changing, instead of placing positive or negative values on those changes.

Change can be scary. Sometimes it’s exciting. Sometimes it is overwhelming, or invigorating, but it can just as easily go unnoticed. Depending on your perspective, change can be historically cataclysmic, or it can be mosquito-fart inconsequential. But change is inevitable, especially in nature. And nature, like a scientist, doesn’t place value on things.

This has turned out to be very important here in the Philippines.

The reefs we’re studying are not what they once were. It’s clear from the intricate and expansive algae-covered structures we see on every dive: these were once vibrant reefs, populated with countless species of thriving corals and fish. Over the last several decades, with overfishing, agricultural runoff, pollution, dynamiting, invasive species, tropical storms and climate change, these reefs have been hit hard. Much of the old reef is now a mossy brownish-green; ancient ruins in an overgrown forest. Even the banded sea snakes have become bandless pea snakes. And don’t worry about sharks: on these reefs, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fish bigger than your hand.

But it’s not dead–far from it. Life continues here, in between the rubble of blasted coral, the spiderwebs of discarded fishing net, the plastic bags and diapers. For one, it is a fantastic place to live if you’re a species of encrusting algae, or one of the many invisible jellyfish floating about, stinging unsuspecting marine biologists.

It’s also still a place where anemones can do well, and they and the soft corals are surrounded by a still diverse set of fishes, crabs, nudibranchs, worms, sea stars, and so much more. And the most bizarre creature I’ve ever almost-accidentally-touched: a six foot-long sea cucumber that looked like a swimming pool lane marker mated with a monster from Tremors.

I don’t know what these reefs looked like a hundred years ago, but I can make educated guesses.  A before-and-after photo would probably be a punch to the gut.

Or, it could be historically inconsequential.

Twenty thousand years ago, global sea level was nearly 400 feet lower. Where these troubled reefs stand would instead have been the lush foothills of the stunning mountains that tower over this island. The nearest coral reefs would have been on the other side of Leyte, lining the edge of the Philippine Trench.

Ten thousand years from now, sea level will likely have risen such that these waters would be far too deep for any light-dependent coral polyp to even consider living here. As they have for hundreds of millions of years of Earth’s history, coral reefs will move up and down the peripheries of islands, following the shallow waters of the millenial tides.

Yes, it is hard on individuals, and on many generations of corals and the plethora of organisms, including Filipino fishermen, that depend on them. And on the scale of a human lifetime, this change is dramatic.

But ultimately, this is just change, on a larger scale–not good, not bad, just change.

Malin and his colleagues recently published a paper in Science outlining the trend of disappearing ocean species, pointing to a developing ocean counterpart to the Anthropocene Extinction Event well underway on land. This is change on a level seen only a few times in the history of the planet, Through our actions, our inactions, and our unintended consequences, we’re in the running to get a Most Change Caused trophy, like the one given to the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs.

At this point, it looks like our dependence on fossil fuels (like the leaded gasoline they sell in Coke bottles on the side of the road here) is far from dwindling. And our best models are starting to show that, even if all carbon production stopped tomorrow, global temperatures will continue to rise into the next century.

Change is inevitable. Perhaps, then, the question should shift away from “How can we stop (or reverse) it?” to “How are we going to adapt to it?” What do we want our oceans to look like in a hundred years? If change is going to happen, can we influence how it affects us and the other species we depend on, or will we just adapt our livelihoods, like the reefs, to the rising and falling tides?

There’s not a lot of options for food here… it’s mostly fried chicken, bananas, and white rice. I’ve tried the tiny, two-bite filleted-and-fried fish they serve in the cafeteria here. They’re a bit too bony for my taste.

I wonder what fish we’ll have to eat when I’m 100 years old.

I hope, at least, we’ll have waterproof headphones by then.