Jointly led UNC and USFQ research team receives $1m grant from National Science Foundation to conduct research in Galapagos and help determine how temperature influences marine ecosystems

The project is titled “Temperature Regulation of Top-Down Control in a Pacific Upwelling System” and all work will take place at the Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal, Galapagos. According to Brandt, ”This new funding will allow us to understand the effect of temperature on the structure and the functioning of the Galapagos marine ecosystems.”
Nearly all the animals that inhabit the ocean are “cold-blooded” or ectothermic, meaning their body temperatures match the temperature of the ocean around them. This has important consequences for their physiology and more broadly for the way marine ecosystems function. When ectotherms warm up, their metabolism increases; meaning they breathe more rapidly, and eat more just to stay alive. This is bad news for prey since a warm predator is a hungry predator. But warming also enables prey species to crawl or swim away more quickly when being hunted. Thus, everything speeds up in warm water. Energy flows more quickly from the sun to seaweeds (via photosynthesis), to the herbivores, then on up to the large predators at the top of the food chain.

The research team, led by Bruno and Brandt, is testing these ideas in the Galápagos Islands to determine how temperature influences marine ecosystems. Ongoing work in this iconic natural laboratory is helping marine ecologists understand the role of temperature and how this and other ecosystems could function in the future as climate change warms the ocean. Other broader impacts of the project include student training and on-site outreach to tourists and the local community about ocean warming and some of the lesser-known species that inhabit the Galapagos.
The broad goal of this project is to understand the effect that temperature has on patterns and processes in upwelling systems. “Our findings will also help us to forecast how global warming will affect this unique ecosystem in the near future,” says Bruno. Specifically, the team is measuring the temperature-dependence of herbivory and carnivory in rocky subtidal habitats of the Galapagos. They are performing field experiments to measure the relative and interactive effects of temperature, herbivory, and nutrient flux on the productivity and standing biomass of benthic macroalgae. Additionally, they are using in situ predation assays across spatial and temporal temperature gradients and mesocosm experiments ( to determine the relationship between ocean temperature and predation intensity for predator-prey pairings including whelk–barnacle, sea star–urchin, and fish–squid.

Green sea urchin – Lytechinus semituberculatus

The team is also looking to have broader impacts in the Galapagos and beyond. The project findings will help scientists and managers anticipate how ongoing anthropogenic warming in this region will impact the ecosystem and the invaluable resources and services it provides. The project outreach also includes training Latin (mainly Ecuadorian) high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. All will receive research experience on-site under the guidance of the PI. This training will increase science capacity in the region and employment opportunities to the many young Galapagueños interested in science and natural history by providing them with skills and experience.

To learn more you can view this comprehensive video about the broader project and also a recent talk about this project by UNC Graduate Student Isabel Silva.


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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!