UC Santa Cruz - Newsletter


At UC Santa Cruz, we are fortunate to be situated in a biodiversity hotspot. Our coastal area is home to a tremendous number of different species, many of which are found exclusively in the Santa Cruz area. We rely on our coast and uplands for sustenance, recreation, and well-being. 

However, these same areas are in peril. Our rapidly increasing human population is putting tremendous pressure on our coasts. Overfishing, pollution, human development, climate change, and rising sea levels are all contributing to their rapid decline.  

At UCSC, we strive to protect these important ecosystems, which are vital not only to our own survival as a society, but also to the health of our planet. That is why we have made Coastal Sustainability one of our top priorities. 

UCSC is internationally recognized for its leadership in marine and coastal research. Our goal is to expand our impact on science, society, and the environment by partnering with others. We are building programs that aim to solve the complex problems of sustainable living on the coast by investing in research and teaching our students and the public about what we’ve done and what we’ve learned. 

Paul Koch
Physical & Biological Sciences

Featured Students - Roxanne Beltran and Nissa Kreidler

Roxanne Beltran and Nissa Kreidler are Ecology & Evolutionary Biology undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz who have done outstanding field research. Their work began as part of the Ecology and Conservation in Practice supercourse taught by Don Croll, Erika Zavaleta, and Gage Dayton. Equivalent to four separate classes, this 19-unit course is the only one students take during Spring quarter. They travel to multiple UC Natural Reserves all around the state, where they gain hands-on experience in biology fieldwork. 

During the final part of the course, the class performed fieldwork on Santa Cruz Island, located in the Channel Islands. Santa Cruz Island was once the site of a large sheep ranching operation. The sheep roamed and grazed freely on the island for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Santa Cruz Island eventually became home to the largest feral sheep population in the world. As the demand for wool fell, production dropped and ranching was abandoned in the 1940s. But the sheep remained. Long-term overgrazing by the sheep devastated the island’s habitats. A program to remove the sheep was started by the Nature Conservancy in the 1980s. Today, there are no sheep left on the island. 

The students read a paper published in 1987 by Dr. Dirk Van Vuren, which outlined in detail the effects sheep ranching had on the vegetation of Santa Cruz Island. While on the island, their goal was to determine how much the island has recovered since Van Vuren’s original study. The class observed some interesting trends that suggested the ecosystem was recovering. 

After the course was over, Roxanne and Nissa chose to continue studying the changes that had taken place on Santa Cruz Island since the elimination of feral sheep.  They wanted to find out in more detail how much passive restoration has impacted the recovery of the island. The two students tracked down Dr. Van Vuren, who responded with great enthusiasm. He provided Nissa and Roxanne with his raw data, original site locations, and long-term photos from 30 different sites around the island. Nissa and Roxanne created a research plan to compare changes in floral cover and community composition 30 years after the removal of sheep. The two students, along with a few other members from their field course, returned to Santa Cruz Island to conduct a study using the exact sites from Van Vuren’s original study. They found a successful recovery back to perennial, native woody cover, confirming the efficiency of passive restoration efforts. 

Roxanne and Nissa have written a paper on their research, and are submitting it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.  

Before and after photos of Santa Cruz Island
  Santa Cruz Island: before and after recovery.

Featured Faculty - Terrie Williams

Terrie Williams is one of our distinguished faculty members in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. She is the Director of the Marine Mammal Physiology Program. Her innovative use of video cameras and computer modeling revealed many previously unobserved behavior in marine mammals, earning her recognition by Discover Magazine as one of the 50 Most Important Women in Science.

Terrie Williams was recently awarded the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books for her new book entitled, The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species. The book chronicles her experience as a marine biologist working with an abandoned monk seal pup known as KP2. Monk seals are a critically endangered species, with only 1,100 individuals left. Her research with KP2 has played an important role in gathering knowledge and data about this little-studied species. 

KP2 was abandoned by his mother when he was only 2 days old and was harassed by the other monk seals on the beach. Because this species is on the edge of extinction, a difficult and controversial decision was made to rescue the seal and rehabilitate him. He learned how to feed, hunt, and swim, and he was eventually released back into the wild. Unfortunately, because of his long exposure to humans early in life, KP2 was drawn to them. He took up residence at a beach on the island of Molokai, and his fearlessness of humans and playful personality quickly turned him into a local sensation and a YouTube celebrity. Efforts to relocate the seal were made, but he always found his way back to his beach in Molokai. When his play fighting was getting a little too aggressive, officials became concerned about safety and removed KP2. Eventually he was brought to Terrie’s laboratory at UC Santa Cruz. Terrie was able to perform research that answered many questions about monk seals, including what their dietary needs are and what water temperatures are ideal for them. 

The Odyssey of KP2 is a heartwarming story that describes the relationship between a monk seal and a marine biologist. Terrie is very open about the challenges and struggles she faces as a research scientist. Her style of writing is clear and engaging, and makes the book easily enjoyable and easy to understand by scientists and nonscientists alike. 

Terrie hopes her book will raise awareness about monk seals and about what it takes to save a species. Parts of proceeds from the book will go directly to support Hawaiian monk seal research and public outreach at UC Santa Cruz. To find out about ways you can help monk seals, click here.

Spotlight on Coastal Sustainability

U.S. Team Poised to Begin Drilling into Subglacial Lake in Antarctica
A team of scientists begin an expedition in Antarctica to explore Lake Whillans, which lies a half-mile under ice. 

Low Extinction Rates Made California a Refuge for Diverse Plant Species
Study attributes California’s status as a plant biodiversity hotspot to low rates of extinction, rather than high rates of speciation.

Scientists Develop New Approach to Support Climate Projections
A recalibration of climate sensitivity based on records of past climates agrees with IPCC estimates for the future.

Mercury in Coastal Fog Linked to Upwelling of Deep Ocean Water
An ongoing investigation of elevated mercury levels in coastal fog in California suggests that upwelling of deep ocean water along the coast brings mercury to the surface, where it enters the atmosphere and is absorbed by fog.

Deep Learning
UCSC’s scientific diving program provides essential training for students who want to work in marine science fields.

Monk Seal Book Wins AAAS/Subaru Prize
The latest book by UC Santa Cruz marine biologist Terrie Williams has received an AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.

Human Health

Emerging Vector-Borne Diseases Create New Public Health Challenges
Land-use change, globalization of trade and travel, and social upheaval are driving the emergence of diseases in many regions, experts say.

BioMAP Screening Procedure Could Streamline Search for New Antibiotics
A new profiling strategy used to screen libraries of natural product extracts will help UCSC find new antibiotics with novel structures and modes of action. 

UCSC Chemist Develops Spray to Detect Poison Oak’s Toxic Oil
Florescence reaction gives contaminated clothes and equipment a tell-tale glow.

Image of Hand Shows Progress Toward Proton Radiography
New imaging technology being developed to guide treatment planning in proton cancer therapy.


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Insect-eating Bat Outperforms Nectar Specialist as Pollinator of Cactus Flowers
Surprising study shows complex relationships in coevolution of plants and pollinators.  
Classrooms Without Walls
From the grasses of the meadows to the tips of towering redwoods, the UCSC campus is a living laboratory and natural lecture hall.   

Tracking Pumas
UCSC students get first-hand scientific experience while monitoring the elusive big cats.  


Astronomers Uncover Trend in Galaxy Evolution
A comprehensive study of hundreds of galaxies has revealed an unexpected pattern of change that extends back 8 billion years.

New Super-Earth Planet Found in Habitable Zone of Six-Planet System
UCSC Astronomer Steve Vogt and colleagues achieve new milestones in our ability to find Earth-sized planets around the nearest stars.

Closest Single Star Like Our Sun May Have a Habitable Planet 
International team of astronomers including Steve Vogt announces discovery of a planetary system around the star Tau Ceti.

Student Excellence

Switzer Environmental Fellowship Awarded to UCSC Grad Student
Priya Ganguli, a PhD candidate in the Earth & Planetary Sciences Department, has received a 2012 Switzer Environmental Fellowship, one of the nation’s best awards for emerging environmental leaders.

UCSC Science Internship Program Participants Are Recognized in Siemens STEM Competition
Six semi-finalists and two regional finalists submitted papers based on research they did in a new summer research program for high school students. 

Faculty Achievement

UCSC Astronomer Sandra Faber to Receive the National Medal of Science
Professor Faber is one of a dozen researchers selected by President Obama to receive the National Medal of Science.

Science Writers Honor Science Communication Program Director Robert Irion
The National Association of Science Writers has honored Robert Irion with a 2012 Diane McGurgan Service Award.

American Mathematical Society Honors Three UCSC Professors
Richard Montgomery, Maria Schonbek, and Harold Widom are among the mathematical scientists from around the world named Fellows of the American Mathematical Society for 2013.

Biologist Pete Raimondi Receives Outstanding Faculty Award
The annual award is the division’s highest honor for faculty achievement, recognizing combined excellence in research, teaching, and service.

Biologist Susan Strome Wins Ellison Medical Foundation Grant
The grant will support Professor Strome’s research on factors that extend the lifespan of organisms in the laboratory.

Two UCSC Professors Elected 2012 AAAS Fellows
In the sciences, Chemistry Professor Ilan Benjamin was recognized for his distinguished contributions to the field of computational and theoretical chemistry.

Physicist Tesla Jeltema Honored by Silicon Valley Business Journal
Professor Jeltema is among 40 accomplished people under the age of 40 recognized this year by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal.  

Upcoming Events

Cheetahs on the Run: January 26
Join Frans Lanting and Chris Eckstrom for a remarkable journey to uncover the secret life of the cheetah - the fastest animal in the world, and the most vulnerable of all the big cats. In this year's show, Frans and Chris travel from the Serengeti Plains to the remote deserts of central Iran, where Frans gained exclusive access to document the last wild cheetahs in Asia -- cats so rare that few people know they exist.

Scholarship Benefit Dinner: February 23 
Join us in celebrating the 10th Annual Scholarship Benefit Dinner in support of the students at UC Santa Cruz. 

Global Oceans Award Gala: March 2 
This annual awards event benefits the education programs of the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. This year's honoree is Richard Harris, UCSC alumnus and NPR science reporter. Student award recipients are Kate Cunningham, who is studying the ability of California sea lions detection of high frequency acoustic fish tags, and Lisa Ziccarelli, who is studying retention of domoic acid in surface sediments off the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. For more information, contact Lisa Rose

On the Shore of the Future: Coastal Sustainability and UCSC's Physical and Biological Sciences: March 18
Dean Paul Koch will be speaking about Coastal Sustainability at a dinner preceding UC Day in Sacramento. For more information or if you would like to be sent an invitation, please contact Allison Garcia - acgarcia@ucsc.edu.

Alumni Weekend: April 26 - 28
Special events in sciences include:
• Minicourse in Coastal Sustainability at Long Marine Lab
• Be a Mentor, Meet the Majors: Reception for faculty, students, and alumni
• Lick 125th Anniversary Celebration on Mount Hamilton
• Wild, Wooly, and Wonderful: A tour of UCSC natural areas

Donor support allows UCSC to attract and retain the best students and faculty, enhance academic programs, and support high impact research. With challenges as pressing as climate change and devastating disease, UC Santa Cruz’s educational mission is more critical than ever. Your help is vital in maintaining and increasing UC Santa Cruz’s success in science education, research, and public service. To make a gift, click on the box below to go to our secure online giving form.


UC Santa Cruz Physical and Biological Sciences Newsbrief is an online publication of the Physical and Biological Sciences at UCSC, to inform alumni and friends about the programs and activities in the division.

Please let us know what you think! We welcome your comments and contributions.

Rebecca Zeilon
Senior Director of Development
Division of Physical and Biological Sciences