Stanford University students researching marine life and birds at Palmyra Atoll, a U.S. territory in the north-central Pacific Ocean, found last year that replacing native trees there led to a decline in the number of manta rays cruising coastal waters.
Through analysis of nitrogen isotopes, animal tracking and field surveys, biology students Douglas McCauley, Paul DeSalles and Hillary Young showed that replacing native trees with nonnative palms led to about five times fewer roosting seabirds (they seem to dislike nesting in palms), which led to fewer bird droppings reaching the soil below and washing into surrounding waters.
The decline in sea nutrients led to smaller and fewer plankton, resulting, finally, in fewer manta rays. The research highlights the need for nontraditional alliances—among marine biologists and foresters, for example—to address whole ecosystems across political boundaries.
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