Public Release:  Grant supports Clemson study of coastal biodiversity

Clemson University

CLEMSON, S.C. -- A grant from the National Science Foundation will support a Clemson University scientist's study of the impact of environmental changes on lucinids, a common species of clam found in Southern coastal marine sediments.

Lucinids also are a key to the biodiversity of low-lying coastal marine ecosystems worldwide. They have been around 400 million years and have been able to recover from many catastrophic changes to their environment.

Barbara Campbell, a microbial ecologist and assistant professor in the department of biological sciences in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, received $215,942 for the first two years of a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation Dimensions of Biodiversity. The research project at Clemson University has been recommended for a total amount of $434,876 over the five years.

Climate change and loss of habitat have affected low-lying coastal environments around the world, and many are rapidly disappearing. Understanding the role that the common clam plays in Southern ecosystems could help determine how to manage these natural resources to prevent further habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity in similar environments.

Campbell's research is in collaboration with Annette Engel, the Jones Associate Professor of Aqueous Geochemistry in the earth and planetary sciences department at the University of Tennessee, and Laurie Anderson of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The five-year grant for the entire research effort is $1.63 million.

Lucinids are key players in coastal marine ecosystem health and biodiversity. They contain chemosymbionts, bacteria that convert carbon into energy and nutrients for the host organism in the absence of sunlight. These bacteria convert toxins, some harmful to humans, clams and other marine life, into less toxic compounds.

In spite of their longevity, little is known about lucinids and how their symbiotic relationship with bacteria performs its detoxification function and how that affects other species, such as fish, crabs, marine mammals and other marine life. The collaborative research effort will fill a major gap in understanding what causes the loss of lucinid biodiversity in habitats sensitive to natural disturbances and those caused by human disturbances.

The interdisciplinary work of Campbell and her colleagues will integrate genetic, taxonomic and functional and paleobiological approaches in their studies and exploration to determine the chemical and nutrient recycling functions of lucinids.

The researchers will provide interdisciplinary training in geochemistry, microbiology and paleobiology to graduate and undergraduate students, including field studies in the Bahamas, training in museum collection standards, laboratory research and computational bioinformatics. Students from underrepresented STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) groups will be involved in the project, and university outreach and mentoring programs will target symbiosis and biodiversity topics through formal and informal classroom, public speaking opportunities and museum activities.

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NSF 2013 Dimensions in Biodiversity program, in partnership with NASA

Despite centuries of discovery, most of our planet's biodiversity remains unknown. The scale of the unknown diversity on Earth is especially troubling given the rapid and permanent loss of biodiversity across the globe. With this loss, humanity is losing links in the web of life that provide ecosystem services, forfeiting an understanding of the history and future of the living world and losing opportunities for future beneficial discoveries in the domains of food, fiber, fuel, pharmaceuticals and bio-inspired innovation. The goal of the Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign is to transform, by 2020, how we describe and understand the scope and role of life on Earth. The campaign promotes novel, integrated approaches to identify and understand the evolutionary and ecological significance of biodiversity amidst the changing environment of the present day and in the geologic past.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DEB 1342763. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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