Greg Laden may focus on human biology for his work, but don't tell him he knows nothing about marine life. The University of Minnesota instructor, adviser, researcher, one-time archeologist and Harvard PhD student, and current blogger for Greg Laden's Blog, pretty much has his hands full, but lucky for us, he doesn't mind opening up about his stance on marine life's contributions to evolution and society from time to time. And he sure didn't mind answering a few questions for The Reef Tank.
Tell us about yourself and your current work and situation.
It's a little complicated. I work for the University of Minnesota in what is called the Program for Individualized Learning. This is a research and project based degree program. I advise students and teach classes in this program, and I teach in the University Honor's program as well. By preference, I'm not full time. I have a slow moving low level research program in the area of Human Origins mainly in South Africa as well. And I blog.
Your blog says that you consider yourself a biologist that focuses on humans. What do you focus on or have you focused on in terms of marine biology, if you have at all? What have you studied? What are you interested in? Where does marine biology fit in?
In the old days, when I was a North American archaeologist, I did a lot of work with prehistoric use of coastal resources. That might count. My main interest, however, is in the various transitions from an ape-like ancestor to modern humans with respect to the way humans use the environment. This includes (though this is not my main area, it is an area of interest for me) the question of when humans started using coastal resources.
According to what you've researched and what you know, what would you say are evolution's contributions to marine science and vice versa?
The main contributions Marine Science has made to the study of evolution ... or should I say that the oceans and the seas have made ...is:
A) the diversity of life in these habitats
B) the excellent preservation of fossils often found in these habitats.
The marine (seas and oceans) fossil record is essential to understanding life, and we would be way behind if we did not have it. It is a good thing that plate tectonics has been busy throwing marine sediments in the path o geologists all this time!
I would hope that evolutionary biology has contributed to marine conservation for the very simple reason that we are really preserving ecosystems. which can only be measured and understood using the methods and theories of evolutionary biology.
Do you think climate change is severely hurting marine life and how? What can we do about it?
I assume that climate change has a major impact on marine life because the ancient record (from cores, etc.) shows that climate shifts have often been catastrophic. There is also direct evidence of this, but frankly, I'm not sure if climate change is the number one problem, given that there are so many other problems, such as over fishing, pollution of various kinds, and so on. I take climate change very seriously and I am convinced that anthropogenic global warming is 'real,' but honestly, with respect to the ocean, there are so many kinds of damage we have done that I am not sure what the most significant problem is right now.