Fish Finds

altSLUG REPORT > Pew grant awarded to Santa Cruz’s Stephan Munch

This year, the Pew Environment Group awarded the 2012 PEW Fellowship grant to six marine science specialists working in the field of environmental research. Stephan Munch, Ph.D, one of the six recipients of the award, is a faculty researcher at UC Santa Cruz and a fisheries ecologist at the National Marine Fisheries Agency, which is located near Natural Bridges.

Munch was awarded the fellowship for his work on a project that will create tools that will identify climate-driven changes in fisheries demographics. He and two colleagues, UCSC professor Marc Mengal and Santiago Salinas, Ph.D., a graduate student from Stony Brook University in New York, have gathered data on lifespan and cross-generational evolutionary changes from two different species of fish—the Damsel fish from the Atlantic Ocean, and the Australian Damsel fish from the Pacific Ocean—that indicate that these species of fish are able to rapidly evolve in order to adapt to different temperatures and climates.

Their work has indicated that in the presence of hotter temperatures, these species of fish produce offspring that have the necessary physical traits needed to survive longer in hotter climates, and vice versa for fish raised in colder temperatures. Specifically, the offspring of these fish have displayed an ability to mature at a much earlier age, which Munch and his team attribute as an evolutionary response to fishing.

The Pew Fellowship grant will fund Munch’s project for the next three years by allotting him $50,000 each year. Stephan has indicated that this funding will be put toward testing other species of fish and gathering those sets of data. He is hoping to hire an assistant who will help with building a new database, as well as another staffer who will help design a web-based program that will predict what species of fish will look like 50 years from now

This has positive implications for California fisheries, which with the help of further research into other fish species would be able to more accurately forecast fish population demographics. Munch’s work could also make big strides in the study of thermal genealogy, specifically in the field of epigenetics, a newer field of research into how species inherit survival characteristics as a result of climate changes.

“What this research has basically told us,” Munch jokingly explained to GT, “is that LaMarck was wrong: Giraffes don’t get bigger necks by stretching.”

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