News Release| California Science Center; Cal State L.A.

March 30, 2011

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 CSULA professor’s display to ‘Help Solve the Mussel Mystery’

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the California Science Center’s Ecosystems exhibit

Los Angeles, CA -- Since the opening of the Ecosystems exhibition at the California Science Museum, thousands of visitors ventured to “Help Solve the Mussel Mystery”—an interactive display that features research conducted by Cal State L.A.’s Biology Professor Carlos Robles (La Crescenta resident) on keystone predators along Santa Catalina Island’s coastline.

The educational display—located within the “Extreme Zone” of Ecosystems—is based on Robles’ previous research funded by the National Science Foundation. The research analyzes inter-species relations and how the predator-prey relationship can shape an ecosystem. In particular, Robles studied how the spiny lobster serves as a “keystone” predator.

Spiny lobster are often regarded as  scavengers, but Robles and his students revealed that they are powerful predators, moving on high tides in the middle of the night into very shallow water and killing mussels and other shelled prey.

“This one secretive species can transform the seashore community from a mussel bed to a carpet of seaweed,” Robles remarks.

This research is also featured in a marine biology textbook, an instructional CD, and published in the Ecology journal of the Ecological Society of America.

“To have my work more broadly used and put to popular use is great,” Robles said, commenting on his display, which is featured among works by about a dozen other scientists, including Charles Darwin and Joseph Connell.

“It’s hands-on and it does make a connection between the people doing the work and the viewers,” he added. “Making that connection is a strength of the center.”

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the California Science Center’s Ecosystems exhibition, which officially opened on March 25, 2010. Ecosystems empowers visitors with the science knowledge to become better stewards of the environment. From walking through a living kelp forest to experimenting on a polar ice wall, explorers can investigate some of the Earth’s most fascinating ecosystems.

Currently, Robles is working on one component of a comprehensive investigation of climate and its impacts on Pacific Ocean communities undertaken by the new NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) consortium called the Cooperative Institute on Marine Ecosystems and Climate (CIMEC).  Robles, who has been conducting field research at Bamfield Marine Science Centre in Barkley Sound, British Columbia, is testing whether coastal gradients in salinity affect the activities of another keystone predator, the sea star Pisaster ochraceus, in response to changes in watershed discharge.

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