UMass Dartmouth Biology Associate Professor has received a $137,945 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the collaborative research project "The effect of temperature and low oxygen on muscle performance, oxygen uptake and delivery in fish exposed to disparate thermal environments." The project is under the direction of Professor Bernal, in collaboration with Chugey A. Sepulveda, of the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research and will involve numerous students at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate level in hands-on field and laboratory research
Temperature plays an important role in the biology of animals, especially in those involved in self-propulsion activities, such as humans (running) and fish (swimming). This is due to the affect the temperature has on both muscle performance and blood-oxygen binding properties. For most vertebrates, in which body temperature is similar to that of the surrounding environment, a change in climate temperature will have profound effects on physiology.
While many fish remain within a narrow temperature range some are known to migrate across wide ranges of environments or dive into deeper, colder water. Of those species that routinely dive, few are capable of sustaining long periods of time within the cold, deep ocean. The swordfish is one of relatively few active exceptions of fish species capable of diving for extended periods of time in the deep, cold, and oxygen depleted waters, while still being able to quickly returning to the warmer waters. The ability to withstand and routinely transition between disparate environmental regimes makes the swordfish an ideal candidate for studies of the effects of temperature and deprivation of oxygen on vertebrate muscle function and oxygen transport.
Professor Bernal's study will assess the effects of temperature and tolerance on muscle performance, cardiorespiratory function, and gene expression in fishes with different levels of tolerance for these extreme climate conditions. This study builds upon previous NSF-funded research on muscle function and will increase our understanding of how selective pressures have lead to adaptations for different forms of life.