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Aug. 29, 2006
Contact: Brandis Griffith, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

Just add water: KU researchers, students wade deep into marine life studies

Credit - Paulyn Cartwright

Invertebrates growing under water on a dock in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where Professor Paulyn Cartwright took her lab for a field expedition.

Credit - Catherine McFadden

A type of jellyfish, named Aurelia, swims off the coast of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Its common name is moonjelly.

Credit - Nathaniel Evans

Paulyn Cartwright, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and her student, senior Kora Anderson, take a dive off the coast of Panama.

LAWRENCE — About 66 million years ago, Kansas was a fluid concept. Its residents were sharks, corals, clams and squid. Although the state is no longer submerged, University of Kansas researchers continue studying underwater life forms — past and present — even though they are miles from the ocean.

KU senior Kora Anderson grew up in Baldwin City and had never seen the ocean before she came to KU. As part of her marine biology studies, she went on a field expedition to Panama with Paulyn Cartwright, KU professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Cartwright says that kind of inexperience fuels her students’ desire to learn more about aquatic life. They are fascinated with fish and organisms she sees regularly on the beach in her home state of California, she said.

“Honestly, in the year and a half that I’ve been here, that has been the most rewarding part of my job: bringing in these undergraduates and teaching them and introducing them to my own research and this experience,” she said.

Cartwright studies the life stages of cnidarians (pronounced nye-DARE-eyuns), a group of marine invertebrates that includes jellyfish.

“Very few of the professors here are from Kansas,” Cartwright said. “We develop our interest and education elsewhere and this is where we got our jobs. What has happened is it has formed a really nice community.”

Cartwright has teamed up with Daphne Fautin, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior curator in the Natural History Museum, in receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation to help assemble the “Tree of Life” for the organisms they study. Fautin’s work concentrates on sea anemones.

Fautin was recently recognized for her work with an appointment to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, organized in 1895 to govern the scientific naming of animals. This year, she is among the first three women ever appointed.

Cartwright and Fautin say they don’t need an ocean next door to do their jobs well and pass their love for marine biology on to students.

“Daphne always says it’s easy to study marine biology in Kansas because you’re close to an airport,” Cartwright said.

KU aquatic and marine life researchers

Kirsten Jensen, assistant professor of organismal biology
(785) 864-5826
Research: tapeworms specific to sharks and rays

Ed Wiley, professor and curator, Division of Biological Sciences
(785) 864-4038
Research: evolutionary history and distributional patterns of fish

Paulyn Cartwright, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
(785) 864-4432
Research: hydrozoan cnidarians, some of which produce jellyfish

Daphne Fautin, professor and senior curator, Division of Biological Sciences
(785) 864-3062
Research: sea anemone and corals

KU marine life paleontology experts

Bruce Lieberman, associate professor of geology
(785) 864-2741
Research: invertebrate paleontology, such as trilobite and mollusk fossils

Desui Miao, collection manager, Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute
(785) 864-3317
Research: vertebrate paleontology (primarily mammal fossils)

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