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Marine biologists probe 'black box' mysteries of the sea

New studies conducted in coastal waters from California to the Caribbean are forcing marine scientists to abandon long-held assumptions about life in the ocean and how best to protect it.

"We used to think that marine organisms went vast distances when they floated in the sea, but it turns out that that they are not really going that far," said Stephen R. Palumbi, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station. "We're finding that the oceans are not just one big neighborhood but are chopped up into smaller ones. In fact, every bit of coastline might be a small neighborhood that we can manage and try to preserve on its own."

Palumbi and fellow Hopkins biologist Mark W. Denny will discuss this new approach to marine ecology at a symposium titled "Opening the Black Box: Understanding Ecosystem Dynamics in Coastal Oceans," to be held during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Denver on Feb. 15.

"In science, a 'black box' is something that you know what goes in and you know what comes out, but you don't know what happens in the middle," explained Denny. "We know that there are organisms on the shore and that they eventually have kids that end up on the shore in a particular pattern. What we don't know is the chain of mechanism that hooks the parents to their kids and explains the pattern. 'Opening the black box' means exposing all the links in that chain, from the small scale to the very big scale, to explain what's going on."

PISCO

Denny, Palumbi and the other participants in the "black box" symposium are affiliated with the Partnership for the Interdisciplinary Study of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) – a consortium of marine scientists from Stanford, Oregon State University (OSU), the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC). Established in 1999, PISCO's mission is to conduct scientific researc
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Contact: Mark Shwartz
mshwartz@stanford.edu
650-723-9296
Stanford University
15-Feb-2003


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