Monday, April 19, 1999

Marine research
gets to bottom of
many a mystery

But even with sex tossed in,
UH grad students' papers are
heavy reading

By Helen Altonn


It's clear from the titles that the papers won't be popular readers, even with a little sex thrown in.

Take G. Curt Fielder's paper, for instance: "Hermaphrodites and Parasites: A Sordid Tale of Shrimp Sex and Isopod Manipulation."

What does that mean, you ask?

Basically, it has to do with certain species of shrimp, their sexual function and the role of a particular parasite in the process. But of course, it's far more complicated, with important implications.

Fielder's paper is just a sample of research in marine biology being done by about 30 University of Hawaii graduate students in life sciences.

It's hard and often dirty work.

"A lotta people groan when I tell them I'm diving in (polluted) harbors looking for sponges," said Ralph C. DeFelice, with the Hawaii Biological Survey, Bishop Museum Department of Natural Sciences.

The students presented papers last week at an annual symposium sponsored for 24 years by the UH Zoology Department to honor Albert Tester, UH senior professor of zoology who died in 1974. Tester was renowned internationally for his research on sharks and their sensory systems and he encouraged student research in a wide variety of fields within marine biology.

Receiving $1,000 grants at an awards banquet Friday night for the best work were:

(PI) Lisa A. Privitera, Department of Zoology, studying mating tactics of male gobies. She also won a women's achievement award in science.

(PI) Wendy A. Kuntz, zoology department, studying the variation in the territorial call of the Mexican spotted owl.

(PI) J.K. Leary, horticulture department, doing research to improve management practices and production of eggplant.

Kuntz, on the Big Island Saturday looking for forest birds, said she was thrilled to receive the award as a first-year doctoral student. She studied the owl for her master's degree at the University of Nevada in Reno.

She had been in Hawaii as a volunteer for the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey and returned to work at the UH on Hawaiian birds, she said. "This is a fantastic place to study evolutionary biology and practical conservation questions at the same time."

Leonard Freed, UH associate professor of zoology, said the yearly symposium "is a super thing," giving students an opportunity to meet eminent biologists and contribute papers as if they were at a national or international science meeting.

The student researchers are probing behavioral patterns, evolution, breeding, effects of disease and many other aspects of birds, plants and animals.

For instance, they're trying to purify and analyze the mechanism of venom action in the Hawaiian box jellyfish, determine why the Australian tree fern is a successful invader in Hawaii's wet forests, and whether public interest in spinner dolphins affects their distribution and behavior. Among other creatures and plants being studied are green sea turtles, coral reef fish, the Hawaiian hoary bat, Hawaiian akepa, Hawaiian squid, Oahu elepaio, mongoose and pili grass.

The cost of the event, about $6,000, is covered through a small UH Foundation endowment and grants from programs and administrators throughout the university, Freed said.

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