As many as six undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence College will be given an opportunity to participate in high-level scientific research, rarely enjoyed by students attending small liberal arts colleges. Thanks to a National Science Foundation grant awarded to SLC biology professor Raymond Clarke, the students will be part of a team investigating a potential consequence of habitat destruction to certain coral reef fishes, research which Clarke believes may break new ground.
“Coral reefs, often referred to as the rainforests of the sea, are famous for the diversity of life within them,” said Clarke. The project Clarke, his students and his collaborators from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium will undertake over the next three years will include fieldwork in Belize and laboratory work in Texas.
The study will focus on the degree that water turbulence affects the ability of two species of blennies (coral reef fish) to capture their food. Water turbulence is reduced when corals disappear, as has been happening throughout the Caribbean in the last 20 years, Clarke explained. Clarke has studied blennies, which are particularly suitable research subjects, and their habitat, primarily elkhorn coral, for 25 years. He has previously shown that the populations of different species respond differently to coral loss.
“Coral disease, which kills the corals, has been rampant around the world and has reduced elkhorn coral, the tallest and considered to be the most spectacular coral in the world, by over 95 percent in the last 30 years,” said Clarke. “What we can learn from the study of blennies and their habitat can make a significant contribution to what we know about the factors that control biodiversity.”
Over the last decade Sarah Lawrence College has steadily expanded its science program and registration in the sciences has grown significantly. A science center was completed in 1994. Faculty chairs in environmental studies and science and society have been established and new faculty positions have recently been added in physics and computer science. Annual lectures with distinguished scientists and the Science Seminar Series, a weekly lunchtime gathering for the entire college community, featuring presentations by students, alumni, faculty and visiting guests are among the most popular programs on campus.