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Rhode Island Natural History Survey » Marine Life Ethnohistory
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Exec's Blog &Natural History dgregg on 26 May 2009 09:34 am

Marine Life Ethnohistory

Someone recently asked me why some plants are considered invasive while others, that arrived here earlier (after all they all arrived here from somewhere else because RI was once all glaciated), are considered native. You can give ‘em the usual cliche about how it’s invasive if it is reproducing outside its normal range to the detriment of native species, but even the least astute could pretty quickly respond that every organism reproduces to the detriment of something.  Hopefully, you’re not making assumptions about a pristine time zero before Europeans came because of course Native Americans modified the environment, too, so you end up thinking about time-depth and speed of change. Since my training is as an archaeologist, this is pretty much my natural state, but in this case it seems generally appropriate.

Once your brain is in “deep time depth” mode, you start to ask all sorts of new questions. There have been a couple of very interesting research projects recently that take that perspective in looking at the state of fish stocks and the degree of degradation in the marine environment and I recommend them. The first, which was in the news quite a bit when if first came out, is by Scripps Oceanography graduate student researcher Loren McClenachan and appeared in Conservation Biology. She looked at the fish in photos of Key West charter boat catches back through time and was able to show just how great has been the change in species and size into the present.  Here’s a link to the Scripps press release about the paper, or look it up in CB if you have access to it: Scripps Release

A whole raft of research on deeply historical fishing trends was recently announced by the Census of Marine Life. By using a wide variety of ancient sources, a number of researchers were able to reconstruct marine life trends back to classical times. Here’s a link to a news story about the research: Historic Fishing Reconstructed

In the interests of full disclosure (and in a self-serving bit of marketing),  you might be interested to know that RINHS helps to facilitate the Census of Marine Life by administering grants for some of its activities. Just another example of the good work made possible by your membership dollars! (If you’re not already an RINHS member, click HERE for information on how you can help make great research possible!)

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