A paper co-authored by Grove City College professor of mechanical engineering Dr. Erik J. Anderson was selected as a featured article in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
“Ontogenetic changes in larval swimming and orientation of pre-competent sea urchin Arbacia punctulata in turbulence,” by Anderson, Jeanette D. Wheeler, Kit Yu Karen Chan and Lauren S. Mullineaux, focuses on the way sea urchin larvae react to the constantly fluctuating marine water column, which impacts the survival and range of many marine organisms that have planktonic early stages, such as fish, shellfish and echinoderms.
“The health of plankton populations is critical to the ecological balance of the oceans and the maintenance of stable fisheries. The fact is that if plankton aren’t healthy we have an ecological disaster on our hands. If a larval population collapses, a fishery collapses and the impact can ripple through the ocean ecosystem and potentially the earth. So studying plankton is vital to monitoring the health of the planet and economically important natural resources,” Anderson said.
“Little is known about what controls the behaviors of these relatively simple organisms. It’s not like they can think, so how do they ‘decide’ when it is time to disperse and settle down to form communities? Our work sheds some light on that question,” he said.
The researchers found, among other things, that the movement of sea urchin larvae is increasingly destabilized by turbulence as they mature and develop additional arm-like appendages, contrary to the lead researcher’s hypothesis that the more mature larvae’s heavier skeletons would produce added ballast and stability. The work suggests that larval dispersal and maturity are synced by arm growth.
Anderson collaborated on this work with colleagues at Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution while doing research at Harvard University with the support of the College’s faculty sabbatical program. The paper’s findings rely on a larval tracking and fluid motion analysis approach developed by Anderson and Wheeler.
For the full paper, click HERE.
For the editor’s review, click HERE.