UAB Research News

  • King crabs threaten Antarctic ecosystem due to warming ocean
    Predators’ arrival could radically alter marine life

    The king crab Paralomis birsteini, photographed on the continental slope off Marguerite Bay, Antarctica, at a depth of 1100 m.King crabs may soon become high-level predators in Antarctic marine ecosystems where they have not played a role in tens of millions of years, according to a new study on which University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers worked in conjunction with the Florida Institute of Technology and other institutions.

    “No Barrier to Emergence of Bathyal King Crabs on the Antarctic Shelf,” published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ties the reappearance of these crabs to global warming.

    This study is a continuation of previous work in the field of Antarctic marine ecology done by James McClintock, Ph.D., paper co-author and professor in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, along with his colleagues.

    “The rising temperature of the ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula — one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet — should make it possible for king crab populations to move to the shallow continental shelf from their current deep-sea habitat within the next several decades,” said lead author Richard Aronson, Ph.D., professor and head of Florida Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences.

    Researchers found no barriers, such as salinity levels, types of sediments on the seafloor or food resources, to prevent the predatory crustaceans from arriving if the water became warm enough. That arrival would have a huge impact.

    “Because other creatures on the continental shelf have evolved without shell-crushing predators, if the crabs moved in they could radically restructure the ecosystem,” Aronson said.

    Nathaniel B. Palmer in the ice off Marguerite Bay.The study provides initial data and does not by itself prove that crab populations will expand into shallower waters.

    “The only way to test the hypothesis that the crabs are expanding their depth-range is to track their movements through long-term monitoring,” McClintock said.

    In the 2010 to 2011 Antarctic summer, in research funded by the National Science Foundation, the team used an underwater camera sled to document a reproductive population of the crabs for the first time on the continental slope off Marguerite Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula. That area is only a few hundred meters deeper than the continental shelf where the delicate ecosystem flourishes.

    “The mounting anticipation as the researchers watched the transmissions from the seafloor culminated in a mixture of both satisfaction and unease upon the seeing the first image of a king crab on the Antarctic slope,” said Margaret Amsler, a research assistant and co-author from UAB.

    “The overall effect of the migration of king crabs to shallower waters,” said postdoctoral scientist and study co-author Kathryn Smith of Florida Institute of Technology, “would be to make the unique Antarctic ecosystem much more like ecosystems in other areas of the globe, a process ecologists call biotic homogenization.”

    SeaSled towed vehicle being deployed from the Palmer off Marguerite Bay.Such changes, the researchers concluded, would fundamentally alter the Antarctic seafloor ecosystem and diminish the diversity of marine ecosystems globally.

    The data used in the paper were collected during an expedition to Antarctica run jointly by NSF, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and the Swedish Research Council. The expedition included scientists from Florida Tech, UAB, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

    Journalists may access the embargoed paper through EurekAlert. They should register with and request access to PNAS materials. Already registered journalists may request access to PNAS at

    A video version of this news story available by contacting Dena Headlee at or (703) 292-7739.

  • October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
    Summary: Several activities are planned in and around UAB for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

    Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. Thanks to early detection and improvements in treatment, millions of women are surviving the disease.

    The Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama has raised more than $5 million to support cancer research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center. The BCRFA helps to ensure that physicians and scientists can seize every opportunity for groundbreaking discovery.

    In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the BCRFA and other organizations are hosting local events:

    Sept. 25–Oct. 25: Calera Goes Pink!

    Join the City of Calera as they Go Pink to support breast cancer research in Alabama. This citywide event kicks off with the Calera High School football game on Friday, Sept. 25, and culminates with a golf tournament at Timberline on Oct. 25. For details, call BCRFA at 205-996-5463.

    October: Pink Ribbon Project

    Dozens of fire stations across the state will Go Pink! throughout the month of October and will be selling specially designed Pink Ribbon Project T-shirts for $15 and $20. Proceeds from shirt sales will help the BCRFA provide seed dollars required to secure sustaining, national grants for breast cancer research at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

    October: Tameron BC Awareness Campaign

    Tameron Automotive Group will donate $100 in support of breast cancer research for every car sold during October at Tameron Honda (1675 Montgomery Highway, Birmingham) and Tameron Hyundai (1595 Montgomery Highway, Birmingham).

    Oct. 9 and Oct. 20: BCRFA’s Go Pink! T-shirt Sale

    From 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Oct. 9 and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Oct. 20, short-sleeved and long-sleeved T-shirts will be on sale by the elevators in the North Pavilion Building at UAB Hospital. Short-sleeved shirts are $15, and long-sleeved shirts are $20.

    Oct. 10: Ross Bridge Uncorked! On the Green

    The community is invited to come out to this free annual event at Ross Bridge (2101 Grand Avenue, Hoover) to sample beer and wine, and make a donation to support BCRFA. Wine tasting is from noon-2 p.m., and beer sampling is from 2:30-5 p.m. A valid ID is required prior to sampling. For more information, visit

    Oct. 16: Pink Luncheon “Crazy for a Cure”

    Make a minimum donation of $15 to BCRFA and enjoy a Mexican buffet, fun and prizes at the MSE Building Co. at 5500 Derby Drive, Birmingham. RSVP at 205-833-9010.

    Oct. 17: Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure

    The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is the largest series of 5K run/fitness walks in the world. The local race will begin at Linn Park in downtown Birmingham. The survivor parade will be at 8:30 a.m., the 5K starts at 9 a.m., and the 1-mile fun run/walk is at 10 a.m., with awards ceremony at 11 a.m. Detailed information is online at

    Oct. 17: New Light Support Group

    In lieu of the New Light Support Group meeting, members of the support group will participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Oct. 17, which will be held in Linn Park in downtown Birmingham. To join a team and help celebrate the life, bravery and the memory of survivors, contact Kimberly Robinson at 205-975-7912 or

    Oct. 18: Fashion and Friends Charity Expo

    This charity business expo will be held in the Main Hall at the Bessemer Civic Center from 4-8 p.m. There will be vendors, speakers and food, with ticket proceeds going to support BCRFA. Tickets are $10 in advance. For more information, visit

    Oct. 25: Pink Private Shopping Night, Belk at the Summit

    From 6:30-9 p.m. BCRFA and Belk are once again partnering to host this exclusive private shopping night. A $25 ticket includes complimentary food and beverages, live entertainment, fabulous door prizes, and the opportunity to shop exclusive shopping discounts at Belk. Tickets are available for purchase online at or by calling BCRFA at 205-996-5463.

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