Biologist's work sheds light on the shape of seahorses


March 29, 2011

People are naturally fascinated by seahorses. Characters from King Neptune to Aquaman to the Little Mermaid have been depicted as using these enigmatic creatures as a means of transportation.

But why are seahorses shaped the way they are? Turns out, according to an Arizona State University professor, seahorses have something in common with people – they like to eat. And their unique shape may be a result of evolutionary adaptations enabling them to improve their feeding efficiency. Download Full Image

Lara Ferry, an associate professor in ASU’s http://newcollege.asu.edu/" target="_blank">New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, is co-author of “An adaptive explanation for the horse-like shape of seahorses,” recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The article explains that seahorses and pipefish (aptly named because of their long, thin shape) share a common ancestor. That ancestor looked a lot more like the pipefish of today than the seahorse.

Today’s pipefish and seahorses both eat tiny shrimp, but the pipefish swims slowly forward to capture its prey while the seahorse employs a sit-and-wait approach, often with its prehensile tail attached to a reef or seagrass bed. Through experimental mathematical modeling, Ferry and her colleagues discovered that the seahorse’s peculiar head, neck and trunk posture allows for the capture of prey at larger distance from the eyes than the pipefish is capable of – an advantage if you’re not moving toward your potential meal.

So Ferry and her co-authors suggest that the seahorse’s evolution into its current form may be related to the biomechanics of prey capture. Theirs is the first proposal of a functional explanation for the body shape of seahorses.

“The paper attempts to examine one possibility for why we see such an unusual shape in nature,” Ferry said. “There is really nothing else in the sea like seahorses. Why do they look this way? We don’t really know if there is some benefit, or if it is a shape that emerged from a series of evolutionary compromises. It is probably a combination of both, but our modeling approach suggests at least one beneficial outcome regarding the ability to capture food.

“We like to think that evolution takes species along a path of improved efficiency, in terms of food gathering or other functions that promote survival. But, in actuality, we know that animals are a series of compromises,” said Ferry, who earned her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine.

“Animals have to use the same parts for breathing as they do for feeding, for example. This means we often see trade-offs. One skill or feature might be improved at the cost of another. Or, the features represent compromises, meaning they are not perfected for either skill but allow organisms to perform each function ‘good enough.’”

Ferry’s research interests are centered on the field of functional morphology. “Quite simply, it’s the study of organism structure – anatomy – and function – how that structure works in a particular context,” explained Ferry, who describes herself as “fascinated with how animals work.”

Ferry is most fascinated by fish; she calls them the most successful and diverse vertebrates on the planet. “Fish have been the ecological dominants in aquatic habitats pretty much since complex life evolved on this planet,” she said. “Aquatic habitats are diverse; therefore fishes as a group exhibit an incredibly rich suite of forms as necessary to meet the challenges faced in these different habitats.”

So what’s a lover of fish doing in the desert?

Ferry is interested in desert fishes, including the desert pupfish, a small, severely endangered species. “I was doing research on this family of fishes while working on the West Coast, so coming to the desert is a perfect extension of the work I was already doing.”

Ferry arrived at ASU’s West campus, the home of New College and its http://newcollege.asu.edu/mns/" target="_blank">Division of Mathematical and Natural Sciences (MNS), for the start of the Fall 2010 semester. Her previous employer was San Jose State University’s Moss Landing Marine Labs.

But Ferry is no stranger to the Southwest. She grew up in metro Phoenix and is the daughter of ASU engineering professor David Ferry. And she said she is happy with her decision to join the MNS division.

“I love the attitude within the division and the diversity of research interests among the faculty,” Ferry said. “It’s an environment that challenges and motivates me.”

“Lara’s expertise in functional morphology has brought a new dimension to our faculty’s research portfolio,” said Roger Berger, MNS division director. “She already has attracted several undergraduate students to work in her laboratory on research projects similar to those reported in the Nature Communications paper. This supports MNS’s dedication to hands-on learning for our students.”

Ferry has provided scientific support to television nature programs, including a Discovery Channel program about the Loch Ness Monster. “The program examined the possibility that something like Nessy lived in the Loch. To the disappointment of conspiracy theorists, we concluded there was no Nessy,” she said.

Ferry also is maintaining her working relationship with the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs, where she spends time in the summer teaching and conducting research. This is where she met her two co-authors for the newly published paper about seahorses. Both are faculty members at a Belgian university.

My ASU story: Alumni share their Sun Devil memories


March 29, 2011

Editor's Note: The ASU Alumni Association asked Sun Devil alums to share their ASU stories. Here are a few selected entries that were published in ASU Magazine.

Dog day afternoon
For the love of the game
Gryder's gift
Pomp and circumstances
The "music men" who changed a life
Attached at the hip
Both sides now
Element of surprise
Trip of a lifetime

Dog day afternoon

Category: Campus Scenes

The Cady Fountain next to the MU was the place to meet, leave your dog, pick up your dog, and keep an eye on a friend’s dog. We knew people by their dog, the breed, name and habits. Cressida, my Springer Spaniel, loved the water, loved playing Frisbee and loved the friends she made. I have friendships that were established at the fountain via our dogs and maintained today, and I periodically run into someone who remembers Cressida! Download Full Image

– Linda Weinberg ‘76 B.S.W., ‘83 M.S.W.


For the love of the game

Category: Family Traditions

I always loved the game of basketball, and although I wasn’t good enough to play on a college team, I wanted to be involved somehow. My cousin was the basketball manager at USC and told me that I should inquire about doing the same at ASU.

The day I called to inquire about how to become a manager just happened to be the day they were holding a meeting for potential managers. I went to the meeting and learned what it was all about. I volunteered all of my free time my freshman year, as there were only two paid positions, which were already filled. My commitment to the team led to a paid position for the next 3 years.

My time with the team and ASU athletics is the reason why I am so passionate about ASU sports today. I am a football and basketball season ticket holder and take my young son to all of the ASU basketball games. My cousin (the USC basketball manager) and I make annual trips to watch ASU and USC play each other in both football and basketball — a sort of family rivalry that started from our involvement with our respective schools’ athletic programs.

Our families love the trips, not only because we get to see each other at least a few times a year, but because of the great family fun and traditions that have evolved out of it. We have been doing it for more than 10 years now, and have no plans to stop. The kids and the adults love the trips, it has become a family tradition, one that we look forward to every year. In fact, as I write this, our family just got back from Los Angeles and the USC ASU football game on Nov. 6. Great game, heartbreaking outcome. Maybe next year!

– David Rindone, ‘94 B.A.


Gryder’s gift

Category: Inspiring Teachers

Dr. Robert Gryder, professor of administrative services, was the kindest, most gentle professor that I ever met. He took me under his wing, literally treated me as a son and guided me through my doctoral program. If it had not been for his positive attitude and skillful guidance, I would not have enjoyed a 40-year career in higher education, which has included being dean of the School of Business at New Mexico Highlands University. He made sure that I was prepared for all doctoral requirements, including the dissertation, and led me by the hand throughout the entire process.

He was the most influential person in all of my educational pursuits and I was lucky to have had him as my major advisor. It is solely because of Dr. Gryder that I am a very proud alumnus of Arizona State University, an institution that me and my family will always cherish. Thank you, ASU, for providing me with the best advisor, and thank you, Dr. Gryder, for all that you did for me and my family.

– Ronald Maestas ’79 Ed.D.


Pomp and circumstances

Category: Graduation

I recall being in the seventh grade and watching the Hispanic Convocation on Channel 8. At the time I did not know what the Hispanic Convocation was, nor did I know what it meant to be a college graduate, since no one in my family had ever attended a university. I remember telling my mom to look at all the “Mexicanos” on TV, walking across the stage with a cap and gown. I told her one day that would be me.

Thanks to great people like Ken Hollin and Michelle Alcantar, who still work for ASU, I not only enrolled at ASU, but graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Social Work. My dream at the young age of 12 had finally become a reality – I proudly walked across the stage in my cap and gown at the Hispanic Convocation. My entire family & friends where there to cheer me on.

Since then, I can now proudly add that I participated in the Hispanic Convocation when I obtained a graduate degree in higher and postsecondary education. I also continue to participate in ASU’s Hispanic Convocation as a staff member, supporting other Hispanic graduates.

– Maria Moreno ’97 B.S.W., ’09 M.Ed.


The “music men” who changed a life

Category: Inspiring Teachers

When I was in eighth grade, my parents sat me down at the kitchen table to explain why they wouldn’t be able to financially support me going to college. I was shocked, traumatized. Going to college was expected in our family. Most of my relatives were college educated, and naturally I looked forward to higher education. I already knew my full time summer babysitting job was not going to provide enough money. What a blow! However, there was still time.

I was born loving music. With my savings, I bought a cornet at the local pawn shop for $10, listened to records and mimicked artists.  I started in beginning band. By sophomore year, I made varsity. In my junior year, I switched to the French horn, at the recommendation of my band director. I played a borrowed school horn, and was enthralled by the sound. Soon I attempted more difficult pieces and an occasional solo. 
In my senior year, I auditioned for an ASU music scholarship. And, I got one! It was big. It paid tuition, books, room and board. I would be in the Sun Devil Band! I would go to college after all!

Harold Hines, director of the ASU Marching Band, and Ronald Holloway, assistant director, were task masters. Both were experts. Hines was a gentle soul who loved students; Holloway, an energetic, detail-minded sort, obsessed about perfection. Marching was arduously fun. 
We had a great rivalry with the U of A Marching Band. Most would agree, the Sun Devils reigned superior. The band built a camaraderie playing halftime at football games and traveling. I still played a borrowed horn.

Eugene Chausow, my musical mentor and teacher, was compassionate, musically gifted and demanded the best. Frank Stalzer was a nurturing counselor. Although I didn’t measure up to their standards, there will never be enough words to express my gratitude.

The ASU scholarship I received profoundly impacted my life. I play locally, have traveled to Europe and Brazil. Next year, I’ll cruise the Mexican Riviera and go to Chicago. Some friends-for-life marching buddies are always there. And today, I have my own horn.

– Jan Nichols ’65 B.S.


Attached at the hip

Category: My Best Friend

I met my friend in the spring of senior year in high school as part of the Leadership Scholarship Program. We clicked right away, and decided to become college roommates in Palo Verde East, back in the day when it was an all female dorm.

We were attached at the hip. We did everything together. You could see us in the same classes, eating in the dining hall, at the parties, and club meetings. We were inseparable. During Homecoming week our freshman year, we dressed up as clowns in a carnival style event. Very few people knew who we were. It was a blast. These are the types of ASU memories that I cherish.
My friend and I are still very close to this day. We see each other almost once a week and now we enjoy watching our daughters playing and growing up together.

– Zulema Naegele ’94 B.A.


Element of surprise

Category: Inspiring Teachers

Professors who have an impact on their students’ lives are legion – and legend. Those who, by their teaching and example, end up saving lives are rare. Maj. Alexander Moser, who taught classes in Old Main when it was the ROTC building, is a unique example of the latter category.

Al Moser created the Desert Rangers – a group still active at ASU – to teach ASU students the key points of survival on the unconventional battlefield of Southeast Asia. No one will ever know how many Sun Devils’ lives were saved by the Rangers’ rigorous training – from physical conditioning and crawling through the desert on your belly, to serving as the opposition force for Arizona guardsmen headed overseas. During those early days, we even ended up fighting a range fire in the process of our training. While I was one of the admittedly lesser members of the Desert Rangers, Moser inspired me. He ignited a life-long interest in insurgency and terrorism.

Moser not only taught me and other Desert Rangers the survival skills and mental attitude we needed, he fueled in me a lifelong need — a need to understand the complexities of the type of warfare we faced then, and now face again in worldwide venues.

Moser’s unique collegiate influence has been ever-present in my life since those days in the Old Main classroom and the cactus-studded desert where we practiced making and breaking ambushes to the crack of blanks and the low boom of simulated improvised explosive devices. It led me to publish two international journals on terrorism and insurgency, to deliver numerous talks and classes, and to write four books. Moser was particularly adept at ambush and counter-ambush, a subject from experience I can testify that that others in the ROTC cadre sadly seemed to ignore.

One of the four books I wrote was the direct result of Moser’s teaching on how to set and break out of an ambush, something other ROTC instructors had totally ignored. From my Desert Ranger instruction, and with the knowledge that the U.S. military had not had a manual on this key subject since the 1950s, years later I teamed with a former Navy SEAL officer to write “Killing Zone.” We put on paper, for others, what Moser had taught the Desert Rangers about this tactic, which has taken so many American lives over the years.

“Killing Zone” took the place of the manual the military hadn’t had in decades. That was the good news. The bad news was that two years ago, while at a conference at Gettysburg, Army Lt. Col. Joshua Potter told me that, while he was being trained for Special Forces, his instructors used “Killing Zone” as a supplementary text. But, he said, the book smacked of the Vietnam era and jungle battlefield. His experience in the newer war zones showed the text needed updating. I agreed. Gary Stubblefield, my SEAL co-author, agreed. The publisher agreed. And Lt. Col. Potter agreed to do the heavy lifting for the revision of the book based on Moser’s original teaching.

Lt. Col. Potter, now serving his fourth tour of duty in Iraq, said the new edition, renamed “Ambush!,” is being used in the war zone and that in its first months it had already saved lives.

Al Moser, through his unique teaching and example, helped protect the lives of his students in Southeast Asia years ago. His teaching and example lives on today in the pages of “Ambush!,” continuing to save lives of soldiers—undoubtedly including Sun Devil alumni.

– Mark Monday ’68 B.A.E.


Trip of a lifetime

Category: Then and Now

In the span of time from 2000 to 2004, I never imagined I would have completed two bachelor’s degrees, represented ASU in the Hollywood Squares 2002 College Tournament, been named Outstanding Graduating Senior for the W. P. Carey School of Business, all major highlights while at ASU. In addition to these amazing opportunities and honors, I was very lucky to have met my husband, Jeremy Schultz, during my time at ASU.

My sophomore year started the same as my freshman year, signing up for classes, buying books, moving into a dorm, and starting the process of meeting my neighbors. During the first few days before school, I heard about a trip to Six Flags that the dorm put together. I got two friends to go and then asked Jeremy, who I had met down the hall. The night of the trip, we patiently waited in Lot 52, only to never have the bus arrive; the trip had been cancelled!

Still determined to go, we all hopped in my car and drove to Six Flags in California. That trip started my relationship with Jeremy. We started dating September 2, 2001, were engaged December 15, 2004, and got married July 15, 2006. Hard to believe almost 10 years ago, our story started at Cholla dorm while studying for accounting and going to ASU football games.

Since graduating, our degrees and careers have taken us to Seattle, Columbus, Ohio, and now most recently to Richmond, Va. I have had the opportunity to work as a high school business and marketing teacher, and most recently became the first corporate trainer for a national non-profit financial agency, Apprisen Financial Advocates. Jeremy has continued to advance with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company working in sales and marketing, which has spurred our traveling from state to state as his career progresses.

Our experience at ASU was amazing, and despite our moves around the country, we still proudly say we are Sun Devils wherever we go. Jeremy has most recently returned to ASU to start his MBA in the online program, and could not be more proud to continue as a Sun Devil in his studies.

– Samantha (Ferreira) Schultz ‘04 B.S., ‘04 B.A.E.