Thursday, March 01, 2007

Earthwatch Supports Academic Collaborations

Chico, Calif. — Professor Michael P. Marchetti, Biology, California State University, Chico is the most recent additions to a collaboration of universities across the country who hope to further conservation efforts on the central Pacific coast of Mexico in La Manzanilla, Jalisco.

The coastal research project is a collaboration among the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR); the Great Basin Institute; the University of South Florida; the University of Guadalajara; California State University, Channel Islands; and CSU, Chico, with financial and volunteer support from Earthwatch Institute.

Earthwatch has provided the group with $76,000 over the next three years for research and conservation efforts. During that time, the program will combine undergraduate coursework, graduate research and on-the-ground volunteers to further the group’s conservation and management plan.

Faculty and students from the universities, along with Earthwatch volunteers, will conduct physical, chemical and biological studies to examine the dynamics of the imperiled mangrove ecosystem. The interdisciplinary and community-based project integrates ecohydrology, botany, aquatic ecology and fisheries biology with citizen monitoring in order to promote a long-term community management program for the region. The research aims to provide greater understanding of the function and importance of these mangroves to the local environment as well as to the local community.

In January 2007, Marchetti joined a team of six faculty, 10 graduate students and two undergraduates to develop the initial research study design. For two weeks, the team worked in the mangrove system to establish research methodologies and develop training protocols for future monitoring efforts.

"The research," said Marchetti, "is hands-on conservation biology at its core, illustrating how conservation scientists, when faced with imminent ecological threat, develop real-world workable solutions that involve the local populace."

Marchetti joined biologists Sudeep Chandra (UNR) and Zeb Hogan (UNR) to direct both the aquatic ecology and fisheries research teams. One of their goals is to examine and quantify human-induced changes in the local fishing harvest by determining the mangrove food web structure as it pertains to fisheries and crocodiles, an endangered species found in abundance in the mangrove.

"The next three years will be critical for establishing viable monitoring protocols that will ultimately inform regional land use policy," said Jerry Keir, director of the Great Basin Institute, a nonprofit environmental field studies organization located on the UNR campus. "Increased commercial and residential development in this region continues to pressure coastal and upland habitat, and our research will model the implications of such impacts."

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