UNE, Bigelow, DMR and others to share research grant to study impacts of climate change on lobsters

Thu, 04/02/2020 - 11:15am

The University of New England will share an $860,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) with Hood College in Maryland, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources to study the impact that a warming Gulf of Maine is having on lobster larvae and their success in growing to adulthood.

“We’ll be studying how temperature influences how larvae settle, where they settle, and how successfully they settle,” explained Markus Frederich, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Marine Sciences and lead scientist for UNE’s part of the project. “The findings of this project will help us make more specific predictions of how many lobsters there will be in the Gulf of Maine in the future.”

Before a lobster becomes an adult, it starts as larvae. They float in the water and then settle and grow into adults. Temperature is a critical factor controlling the distribution of marine organisms. As waters warm, adult lobsters move towards colder waters. However, most research on thermal tolerance has focused on adults, not larvae. 

“There is very little research available on the impact of warming oceans on the development of those larvae,” said Frederich.

Research conducted by the team will help advance our understanding of shifting species distributions in response to increasing ocean temperatures, explore thermal sensitivity in wild caught larvae for the first time, and improve our understanding of the potential impact of climate change on the most valuable commercial fishery in North America. 

The project will support training of undergraduate interns and master’s students, with a team of scientists that are experts in lobster biology, stress physiology, and modeling.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our faculty and our students to study the effects of climate change in the Gulf of Maine on our state’s most iconic animal,” stated Charles Tilburg, Ph.D., director of UNE’s School of Marine Programs. “Markus’ and his colleagues’ work will bring much needed light to this important topic and provide our students with new experiences as they learn cutting edge techniques.”

The project brings together two undergraduate colleges, a premier research institution, and a state agency. The combination provides exciting learning opportunities for the students involved.

“We’ll combine field work and lab work,” stated Frederich. “All of the stages will involve students, giving them hands-on research that could have an impact on an industry and the people involved in it. This is a spectacular science experiment experience for them.”

The grant will fund the study for three years. UNE’s share will be $310,000.