Contact: Allison Benner, College Relations Associate – Media, 610-740-3790


Funding will Allow Undergraduates to Participate in Major Research Initiative

Allentown, PA (May 5, 2006) – The tiny Central American country of Belize is known by most for its beautiful Caribbean coastline and status as a cruise ship port of call. What many don't know is that it contains the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and retains 93 percent of its tropical forest. These factors make Belize home to a diverse array of tropical species. Unfortunately, coastal development, industrial growth, overfishing and tourism activities are having major effects on the environment and are threatening the survival of a number of those species.

Two Cedar Crest College professors have received grants from the Earthwatch Institute and Conservation International to conduct biological and genetic research on one of Belize's most threatened creatures, the queen conch. Dr. John Cigliano and Dr. Richard Kliman, both associate professors of biology at Cedar Crest, will utilize the $20,000 and $30,000 grants, respectively, for studies that will explore the demographic and population genetic structure of the queen conch, laying the groundwork for future research that could save this significant marine resource that is threatened with extinction. The grant will also allow some of Cedar Crest's own science students to play a hands-on role in this important research.

"This is an amazing opportunity for our student researchers and for Dr. Kliman and I as biologists," says Dr. Cigliano, who developed the Biodiversity and Conservation Biology program at the College. "It is rather unique for students from small colleges to be able to participate in a global research initiative such as this.

The queen conch is a large snail found throughout the Caribbean. It is also a highly valuable economic and cultural resource and the second largest export in the region. Its status as a sought after food source has resulted in overharvesting and the population is on the verge of collapse. In some areas, it is already economically extinct.

The purpose of the initial research will be to examine the population structure of the queen conch in the hopes of discovering how populations in one area are connected to others. The Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve in Belize, which was established to help protect and manage the vital resource, will serve as the field site where the students and scientists will snorkel around coral islands to survey for queen conchs, map clusters of the mollusks and assess habitat quality.

"A central question in marine ecology is how groups of species in different areas of the ocean are connected," says Dr. Kliman, who will head up the genetic aspects of the study. "If we can determine the source of the queen conch population, it will be a big step forward in trying to preserve and protect the species."

The queen conch study is part of a larger conservation research initiative taking place in Belize. Earthwatch Institute is also funding research in coral recovery with scientists from the Boston University and University of Luton, and ecosystem monitoring with the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment (TIDE). Earthwatch Institute is an international non-profit organization that brings science to life for people concerned about the Earth's future. Founded in 1971, Earthwatch supports scientific field research by offering volunteers the opportunity to join research teams around the world. This unique model is creating a systematic change in how the public views science and its role in environmental sustainability. Today, Earthwatch recruits close to 4,000 volunteers every year to collect field data in the areas of rainforest ecology, wildlife conservation, marine science, archaeology, and more.

Student researchers and their professors will be conducting field work and will bring back photos and stories about their experience.

For more information about the grant or to speak with Dr. Cigliano or Dr. Kliman, please contact the College Relations Office at 610-740-3790.


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