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Press Release 95-72
Researchers Seek Basic Knowledge to Support Conservation and Restoration

October 17, 1995

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Around the world, animals and plants are becoming extinct at unprecedented rates. As human civilization encroaches on nature, entire ecosystems are threatened. Determining the fate of life on Earth has challenged biologists seeking to understand connectedness, continuity, and complexity in ecosystems.

To advance knowledge of ecosystems and species under pressure, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded 17 grants in its conservation biology and restoration ecology program in the division of environmental biology.

Threats to biological diversity occur across geographic regions, at all levels of organization, and on scales ranging from the microscopic to the oceanic. NSF grantees will work not only in the United States, but also at sea and on land in other countries. Support for this sixth year of awards totals approximately $2 million. Research subjects include effects of ultraviolet light on amphibians, conservation strategies for large lizards, and coral reef restoration.

Descriptions of some of the conservation biology and restoration biology awards follow, along with a list of grant recipients:

ENDANGERED LARGE LIZARDS

Large lizards represent more than 60% of lizard species considered threatened or endangered. Even among distantly related species, large body size, requirements for tracts of undisturbed habitat, and human exploitation for skins and food link large lizards when it comes to conservation management strategies. Of all large lizard species, the West Indian rock iguanas, genus Cyclura, are the most endangered, primarily because they inhabit fragile island ecosystems that suffer from habitat degradation and the effects of introduced species. Over the past two years, Cyclura species have been studied at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Because of the more than 30,000 refugees housed at Guantanamo Bay, field experiments have been delayed. Research conducted by Allison Alberts of the San Diego Zoo is taking advantage of the delay to conduct experiments to provide direct evidence of lizard species survivorship after captive breeding and release programs. "This research represents the first rigorous approach to determining the factors that will affect the success of captive breeding programs," says Alberts.

NEW RESEARCH ON AMPHIBIAN DECLINES

Habitat destruction, over-harvesting, chemical pollution, introduced exotic species, and climate change are among the major threats to biodiversity. As part of this overall crisis, numerous recent reports have suggested that many species within the class amphibia are undergoing population declines and range reductions. The cause of these declines is unclear, but one factor implicated in amphibian decline is UV-B radiation. Research conducted by Andrew Blaustein of Oregon State University will investigate the effects of UV-B radiation on egg survivorship, hatching success, and larval development in amphibian populations in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, his studies will determine whether UV-B interacts with a pathogen to further reduce amphibian survivorship. "Since conditions likely to promote increased UV transmission are now becoming manifest, it is important to examine the effects of current levels of UV radiation on animal populations. Knowledge from such studies will enable us to take steps to reduce a potentially serious environmental threat," says Blaustein.

CORAL REEF RESTORATION

Coral reefs are important reservoirs of biodiversity and serve as centers of biological production in low productivity seas. They provide subsistence and commercial fishing resources and contribute to third world economies by attracting tourism. It has become increasingly apparent, however, that reefs are being adversely affected by human activities, say scientists, with restoration of reef fisheries and habitats only just beginning. Research by Eric Mueller of the University of Southern Alabama will examine coral growth and physiology under laboratory cultures conditions, and test survival of laboratory-raised corals in field test plots. These data will be used to modify coral culture techniques, which have significant advantages over simple transplantation strategies, says Mueller. Corals are slow-growing species, and optimizing growth rates to attain corals of critical size is fundamental to the success of a culture approach. "Results obtained from this project will provide critical information for coral reef restoration programs," says Mueller. "Development of coral culture will help reef conservation efforts by reducing increasing harvest of wild corals for the commercial trade."

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Cheryl L. Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-8070, cdybas@nsf.gov

Program Contacts
Scott Collins, NSF, (703) 306-1479, scollins@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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