UTMSI student’s paper is published
A former graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) has published a paper that answers questions some scientists say they’ve been asking for years – how do tiny marine creatures escape becoming something’s lunch?
Brad Gemmell, who received his doctorate under UTMSI faculty member Ed Buskey, showed it’s because they jump out of the water – sometimes as far as 40 times their own length.
Gemmell and two other researchers, as well as Buskey, have published the findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a United Kingdom scientific journal.
It was when Gemmell was at UTMSI in 2010 that he got the idea for the study. During a lunchtime stroll near the institute’s marina, he said, he noticed a pattern in the water that looked like rain drops. Thinking the pattern strange, Gemmell got a beaker from a laboratory and scooped up some of the water.
Not surprisingly, it was filled with copepods – crustaceans smaller than most ants that have the appearance of tiny shrimp. Okay. Most of the coastal water teems with copepods, one of the bases of the marine food chain.
But Gemmell noticed that when plankton-eating fish were in the water, the copepods would literally leap away from them, breaking the surface of the water and flying through the air. Gemmell said he was amazed, because the behavior had never before been described by scientists.
He and some colleagues got a high-speed video camera and hauled it to the marina, where they videotaped two species of leaping copepods – Anomalocera ornata and Labidocera aestiva, if it matters. In the copepod world, both are considered large, being a few millimeters from head to tail.
An abstract of the paper is available at the Royal Society’s Web site, http://rspb. royalsocietypublishing.org/ content/early/2012/03/16/ rspb.2012.0163