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From the College of Natural Sciences
Reading the Tea Leaves

Reading the Tea Leaves

Kelley Savage, Research Scientist Associate with the Mission-Aransas Reserve, lays out a transect line in order to place multiple tea bag samples in the salt marsh on Mustang Island. Photo credit: Christina Marconi.

Sometimes well known, simple household objects can be the best tools to use in a science experiment. Researchers at the Mission-Aransas Reserve are part of an international experiment with the Smithsonian MarineGEO (Global Earth Observatory). Tea bags are used to determine salt marsh decomposition rates, how microbes help the decomposition and if the environment makes a difference. Tea bags it turns out are a great source for science because they are readily available throughout the globe and are similar in size, weight and composition.

Nurdle Patrol Expands into Mexico

Nurdle Patrol Expands into Mexico

Recent funding support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program will allow for expansion of Nurdle Patrol into Mexico and increased data and surveys of nurdle pollution. Map show survey locations and number of nurdles collected, as of September 2021. The basemap was created using ArcGIS® software by Esri.

PORT ARANSAS, Texas – Plastic pollution in marine environments has no border. The waters of the United States and Mexico are inextricably linked through currents of the Gulf of Mexico and with them flow marine debris. One source of marine debris of concern are plastic pellets, or nurdles. Now with new support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust, the Nurdle Patrol citizen science program is expanding across the United States and into Mexico.

Loss of Picky-Eating Fishes Threatens Coral Reef Food Webs

Loss of Picky-Eating Fishes Threatens Coral Reef Food Webs

Coral reefs all over the world, already threatened by rising temperatures brought about by climate change, also face serious challenges from the possibility of fish species extinctions. According to a paper out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the networks of predator fish and their prey found on coral reefs all over the world are remarkably similar, and those predator fish are pickier eaters than previously thought. These delicate ecosystems become even more vulnerable when these specialized hunters go extinct.

Finding the Goldilocks Zone for Fish at Oil Platforms

Finding the Goldilocks Zone for Fish at Oil Platforms

Researchers used a submersible-rotating drop-camera to capture fish images, such as vermilion and red snapper, and identify fish distribution and abundance patterns. They conducted 114 surveys at 54 platforms throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Derek Bolser.

If you are an angler looking for the best place to fish in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil platforms offshore of Louisiana's Atchafalaya River are your best bet. The most comprehensive study of fish assemblages near oil platforms, released today in the journal Fisheries, identified the area as a hotspot.

Bay Education Center is Fully Repaired and Reopened after Hurricane Harvey Damage

Bay Education Center is Fully Repaired and Reopened after Hurricane Harvey Damage

Opening May 8 is the Bay Education Center in Rockport,Texas. Credit: Eddie Seal

This May 8, 2021 the Bay Education Center, which is operated by the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, a program of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, will reopen and showcase its new exhibits. Like many museums and nature centers on the Texas coast, the Bay Education Center was struck a double blow with Hurricane Harvey and then the pandemic. 

Climate-friendly Microbes Chomp Dead Plants Without Releasing Heat-trapping Methane

Climate-friendly Microbes Chomp Dead Plants Without Releasing Heat-trapping Methane

Tengchong Yunnan hot springs in China, where some of the newly described Brockarchaeota were collected. Photo credit: Jian-Yu Jiao from Sun Yat-Sen University.

The tree of life just got a little bigger: A team of scientists from the U.S. and China has identified an entirely new group of microbes quietly living in hot springs, geothermal systems and hydrothermal sediments around the world. The microbes appear to be playing an important role in the global carbon cycle by helping break down decaying plants without producing the greenhouse gas methane.

Record Number of Turtles Rescued at University of Texas Marine Science Institute

Record Number of Turtles Rescued at University of Texas Marine Science Institute

Winter Storm Uri caused damage and hardship across the state of Texas, and at the Port Aransas campus of the University of Texas at Austin, the work to recover from it included rehabilitating a record number of sea turtles threatened by the cold weather.

Jessica O’Connell Connects Ecology Research with Local Conservation Efforts

Jessica O’Connell Connects Ecology Research with Local Conservation Efforts

Photo courtesy of Jessica O'Connell.

Jessica O'Connell, an ecologist, remote-sensing specialist and data scientist, recently joined the Department of Marine Science as an assistant professor. O'Connell worked in wetlands across North America before making her way to the Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, where she works to uncover what causes change in wetland systems while being responsive to local conservation and management issues. Part of that work looks at how climate change and sea level rise may impact coastal marshes.

Graduate Student Receives Prestigious Jess Hay Fellowship

Graduate Student Receives Prestigious Jess Hay Fellowship

Derek Bolser, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute was recently awarded a prestigious Jess Hay Chancellor’s Graduate Student Research Fellowship award from The University of Texas System for 2020-2021.

A prestigious Jess Hay Chancellor's Graduate Student Research Fellowship award from The University of Texas System will be given this year to Derek Bolser, a fifth-year doctoral student studying marine science at The University of Texas at Austin.

7 Emerging Scientific Leaders Among Recipients of Stengl-Wyer Research Support

7 Emerging Scientific Leaders Among Recipients of Stengl-Wyer Research Support

The College of Natural Sciences has recently recruited and supported top leaders among a new generation of scientists through the Stengl-Wyer Endowment – the largest endowment in the college's history. These postdoctoral scholars and graduate students are working on research projects that will promote a deeper understanding of climate change, protect natural habitats and maintain biodiversity in Texas and beyond.

New Initiative Aims to Reveal the Origins of Complex Life

New Initiative Aims to Reveal the Origins of Complex Life

A new research initiative will shed light on how the origin of complex life evolved through symbiosis. The project will be the latest from the Brett Baker laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin's Marine Science Institute, which made recent discoveries of new organisms called Asgard archaea, named after Norse gods, and their metabolisms.

Marine Scientist Brett Baker Receives Simons Award

Marine Scientist Brett Baker Receives Simons Award

Brett Baker received a 2020 Simons Early Career Investigator Award.

​When you can change the tree of life with a click of a button, people notice. Brett Baker, microbiologist and assistant professor at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute, has attracted the attention of the Simons Foundation. The foundation selected Baker as a 2020 Simons Early Career Investigator in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution. The award recognizes Baker's work in microbial diversity, ecology and evolution.

14 Natural Sciences Students Receive Prestigious NSF Fellowships

14 Natural Sciences Students Receive Prestigious NSF Fellowships

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that 43 University of Texas at Austin students, including 14 in the College of Natural Sciences, will receive prestigious Graduate Research Fellowships.

Hidden Source of Carbon Found at the Arctic Coast

Hidden Source of Carbon Found at the Arctic Coast

Dr. Craig Connolly takes a groundwater sample to measure the concentration and age of organic carbon and nitrogen in groundwater flowing beneath the beach. Credit: Jim McClelland.

A previously unknown significant source of carbon just discovered in the Arctic has scientists marveling at a once overlooked contributor to local coastal ecosystems – and concerned about what it may mean in an era of climate change.

The Nurdle Patrol Wages War on Plastic Pellets, With Boost from Lawsuit Settlement

The Nurdle Patrol Wages War on Plastic Pellets, With Boost from Lawsuit Settlement

Plastic pollution has contaminated every continent on Earth. It kills wildlife from whales to sea turtles. Some of the smallest plastic particles, called nurdles, are among the most insidious. It's difficult to even catalog the scope of the problem. But one group of citizen scientists is going to try. And a recent lawsuit against a plastics manufacturer is about to give them a major boost.