Women still under-represented in science

The under-representation of women in science is still a reality. The proportion of female students seems to be increasing (I see this myself especially in marine science), but there are still significantly fewer women represented at conferences and in tenure-track faculty positions. Yes, it’s better than 50 years ago, but we still have work to do.

I’ve been lucky thus far in my (very young) science career to have had some great female mentors and role models – women who are not only smart, hard working, dedicated, and successful scientists, but who are also loving mothers, wives, and friends. They have given me insight and inspiration on many occasions. I wonder if I’m an exception to the rule. I sure hope not.

This blog post is one lady scientist’s experience, complete with some suggestions on what we can do to support more female representation at conferences, and links to 2 journal articles that discuss this very issue.

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Choosing your seafood wisely

Not all seafood is created equal when it comes to human consumption. Some seafood is harvested using methods that are destructive to the habitat they live in, like destroying reefs or bottom habitat. Several species are “overfished,” meaning that over time we have taken so many of them out of the sea, their numbers are critically low and we need to give the population time to rebuild. Some practices for farmed seafood include genetic modification, using antibiotics, and growth hormones, which then make their way into the people who eat them. And some seafood is considered high with levels of contaminants, like mercury or PCB’s, depending on where the seafood is from.

We should all try to be informed consumers about which seafood is the best choice, given all these fators. Here’s one really neat graphic depicting which fish are the best choice to eat: http://bit.ly/WlXosq

Another great resource for choosing the best seafood is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which has guides to print and an app for your phone, so you can always have the info you need to make the best seafood choice.

These guides consider if the methods of harvest harm the environment, farmed vs. wild-caught populations, any potential for contaminants, and whether or not the species is overfished. Species that are overfished are not considered sustainable, and in my opinion should always be avoided.

Lionfish are now the worst marine invaders in history

Photo from daveharasti.com

Photo from daveharasti.com

Step aside zebra mussels, lionfish are now the worst marine invader that we have ever seen. Not just in the US, but globally. Lionfish may look beautiful but they are veracious predators, which is in part what makes them so devastating. Since the first confirmed population off North Carolina’s coast in 2000, they have spread as far north as New York, as far south as Venezuela, throughout the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. And now there are obese lionfish. That’s right, obese.

How did this happen? Like many other exotic invaders – giant pythons in the Florida everglades for instance – lionfish entered the waters of the Atlantic when a few aquarium owners decided they no longer wanted them. Through genetic tests, scientists estimate that it took less than a dozen females released from home aquariums to start what is now the worst marine invasion in history. Their numbers have exploded not only because they are incredible predators, but also because they have no natural predators in the areas that they’ve invaded. Even sharks don’t eat them! They grow quickly, start reproducing early, and reproduce year-round, unlike most fish that have just one reproductive season. All of this has allowed them to spread incredibly quickly. 

What’s the problem? Invasive species are a huge problem in all natural systems, not just the ocean. And the destruction that lionfish have caused speaks to some of the larger problems that are rampant in the exotic pet trade, including pet owners’ lack of knowledge and understanding of their animals. Lionfish reduce native species by about 70% when they come on the scene. And more than just disrupting natural ecosystems, lionfish may be causing significant reductions in species that humans have worked hard to manage and are interested in consuming, like vermillion snapper and red snapper.

What are we doing about it? Whatever we can think of. Spear fisherman are encouraged to kill and eat them. Fishing derbies and rodeos are held specifically in attempts to reduce their numbers. Cookbooks have been developed to teach people how to safely clean and prepare them. There are scientists at universities in Florida (one of whom is at USF) that are researching ways to control them. The problem is that they spread like wildfire and eat literally everything in their path – they have been observed eating at a rate of 1-2 fish per minute, and their stomachs can expand 30 times their size! Hence the obese fish.

You can read more about the lionfish invasion here and track where and when the invasion has been happening with this cool web tool.