A group of biological sciences students from the University of Missouri-Rolla spent a week in the Bahamas in May 2005 studying tropical marine biodiversity.
The students departed May 16 for the island of San Salvador, also known as Columbus Island, one of the Out Islands of the Bahamas, where they studied the island’s biological diversity through May 23.
"Biodiversity can vary at the genetic, organism, community and ecosystem level," says Dr. Anne Maglia, assistant professor of biological sciences at UMR. "A loss of biodiversity reduces an ecosystem’s ability to recover from natural or man-induced disruption, which has ultimate consequences for the health of the planet and mankind."
Maglia’s students have spent the semester learning about the factors that lead to the enhancement and reduction of biodiversity or the total number and variability of organisms, how to measure and monitor biodiversity, and how to predict and prevent the future loss of biodiversity.
San Salvador is a particularly good environment to study biodiversity, Maglia says, because it has many diverse ecosystems, including dry tropical forests, inland fresh water and hypersaline lakes, caves, and patch and barrier coral reefs.
"It is a relatively pristine environment with high rates of biodiversity and some species that are found nowhere else on the planet," Maglia says. "However, many of the ecosystems now show signs of trauma from man-made sources like pollution, over-fishing, and global warming."
The students examined first hand the impact of humans on pristine environments, and were trained to monitor, understand and help protect biodiversity.
"The island (San Salvador), which is believed to be the first landing place of Columbus in the Western Hemisphere, is home to the Gerace Research Center, a field station dedicated to scientific research and education focusing on tropical and marine studies, as well as about 800 San Salvadorians," Maglia says.