A Multi-Faceted Approach to Teleost Biodiversity Education

Climate change has been increasingly identified as a strong driver in shifting species distribution and promoting extinction. Marine species track very close to climate changes and are especially at risk due to rising sea temperatures coupled with anthropogenic factors such as over-fishing and pollution. In the near future, commercially important teleost species may be lost due to climate change pressures. Losses of teleost biodiversity will could have significant economic and societal impacts on the state’s economy and the communities that rely on these species. The goal of my master’s thesis will be examine forecast changes in biodiversity of Chesapeake Bay teleosts by not only examining taxonomic diversity, but by taking into account phylogenetic and functional diversity as well. By considering multiple aspects of biodiversity, I hope to aid in the development of novel conservation strategies and diagnostic tools that will aid in the preservation of valuable Chesapeake Bay fish species.
The long term goal of this project is to help ensure teleost biodiversity remains present for future generations. However, fisheries and local communities often view conservation initiatives as a callous limitation of their livelihood. I believe that this ultimately arises due to a failure to understand the long term objectives of biodiversity conservation and the importance of biodiversity to ecosystem function. In order to gain support for my research, I wish to adopt a multi-faceted educational approach. On the surface, biodiversity is a fairly easy concept to understand, but it is likely that the majority of the public has little experience with phylogenetic or functional diversity. My outreach will focus on educating the community as why these two facets are important as well as why maintaining teleost as a whole is critical to ecosystem health and coastal economies.
I intend to take a multi-faceted approach in order to educate the public on phylogenetic diversity, functional diversity, and the effects that climate change has on these two biodiversity indices. Working with Kattie McMillan, I will volunteer with the VIMS Communications Office by giving VIMS campus tours, participating in local festivals attended by the VIMS Office of Communication, and by giving talks with Science Under Sail during trawl voyages. This will allow me to convey my research to members of the public that are already interested in learning more about the ecological and biological dynamics of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the threats it faces. Hopefully, these receptive members of the community will help to entice their less enthusiastic neighbors into learning more about biodiversity and conservation as well. In general, these efforts will consist of me speaking about biodiversity and discussing my research, but I also intend to develop an interactive activity for Marine Science Day in order to help foster interest in marine biodiversity among children. Kids and their parents will have the opportunity to bring stuffed animals from home which I will use to create a quick phylogeny and dendogram. I believe that people naturally curious about the evolutionary relationships between organisms and that this will enable them to understand the methods used in creating biodiversity indices in an entertaining manner.
I will also use an online approach to help engage the public. In order to quantify phylogenetic and functional diversity, I will have to create a phylogeny and dendogram. My hope is to make both available online either as part of a blog, website, or Facebook page. Interested individuals will be able learn about the phylogenetic and functional relationships between Chesapeake teleosts at their own pace. I also wish to make the phylogeny interactive, if possible. If a user clicks on a specific fish in the phylogenetic tree, the branches leading to that individual could change a different color so that the user could more easily visualize its relationship to other taxa. A brief description of the fish would also appear in the text box.
I feel that a combination of personal and technological educational methods would present the public with ample opportunities to deepen their understanding of Chesapeake Bay teleost diversity and the potential threats that global warming may present to the ecological community. By increasing the public’s awareness of the importance of fish biodiversity, I could help to generate and improve support for marine conservation research. Hopefully, more support from the community will eventually lead to more support from lawmakers as well.