Marine biologist Brent Hughes didn’t think sea otters and sea grass had much in common. But his research at Elkhorn Slough, an estuary on Monterrey Bay in northern California, revealed a new and surprising connection between the two. The scientist expected this estuary to be overrun with algae due to the fertilizer runoff from surrounding fields. But it wasn’t. Why?
Potentially Sensitive Areas: None
Booklist (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 5-8. Though the cover of promises photographs of adorable, fluffy-faced otters, this volume packs a substantial amount of scientific detail as well. The main narrative follows marine biologist Brent Hughes and his study of Elkhorn Slough, which grew healthy seagrass while other inlets in similar conditions suffered. Eventually, careful research revealed that it was the presence of sea otters, the local apex predator, that allowed the slough to flourish. In four chapters, Newman details Hughes’ research processes and examines the workings of ecosystems in general and how its inhabitants affect it at every level. Illustrations include not only those irresistible otter photos but also scientific diagrams and photographs of Hughes’ experiments. A final chapter on conservation explains the often-damaging effect humans can have on ecosystems, while back matter includes relevant experiments, extensive secondary resources, and ways in which young people can help the environment on a daily basis. Not just an exploration of one particular discovery in marine biology, this is a comprehensive explanation of the scientific process as well.
Kirkus Reviews starred (February 15, 2017)
A young scientist’s doctoral research reveals a surprising relationship between sea grasses and sea otters in a California bay.Valuable sea grasses in Elkhorn Slough, in Northern California, were thriving in spite of heavy nutrient pollution from nearby Salinas Valley farms. When Brent Hughes began his investigation of this mystery, he looked at things directly affecting sea-grass growth, such as weather patterns. It wasn’t until he compared sea grass cover with otter population that he found a match. In discussions with other researchers, the young white biologist learned that otters like to eat big, meaty crabs, which feed on sea hares, a type of sea slug that in turn feeds on algae growth that smothers the grasses. Following usual procedures, he then designed experiments to prove his hypothesis that the thriving otter population made the sea grass flourish. This intriguing description of the problem he saw and his research process is a model of the scientific method. Interspersed with chapters describing the mystery, the development of the hypothesis, the proof, and the larger idea of “trophic cascades” (interactions among predators and prey that begin at the top of the food chain) are sections about otters and about sea-grass science in general. A map, ample photographs, and an attractive design add appeal, and there are sensible suggestions for environmental protection. A thoughtfully organized and attractively presented example of science in the field. (source notes, glossary, bibliography, suggested resources, index). (Nonfiction. 11-16)
About the Author
Writing for children is the hardest thing I’ve ever done—the field is intensely competitive. But I write because I can’t imagine not writing. I write for myself and for the kids who read my work. I write for the joy of seeing a kid sitting in the front row at a school visit, hand stretched high to answer my questions. I write for the kid who tells me he already owns one of my books and has read it 15 times.
Her website is www.patriciamnewman.com.
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