STEM-focused juniors win Goldwater Scholarships

Four Yale College juniors — Daniel Chabeda, Megan He, Ronald Hood, and Sarah Zhao — are among the 410 college students from across the nation to receive Goldwater Scholarships for the 2021-2022 academic year. The scholarships, named in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

Scholarship winners have impressive academic and research credentials. Many have published their research in leading professional journals and have presented their work at professional society conferences.

The Yale winners were chosen from over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors who were nominated by 438 academic institutions. Virtually all of the Goldwater Scholars intend to obtain a Ph.D. degree. Fifty-one are mathematics and computer science majors, 291 are majoring in the natural sciences, and 68 are majoring in engineering.

The members of the campus Goldwater committee were very enthusiastic in their support of these exceptional students and were delighted that the students received this well-deserved recognition from the Goldwater Foundation,” said Emma Rose, associate director of fellowships in the Office of Fellowship Programs in the Center for International and Professional Experience.

Daniel Chabeda, who is majoring in chemistry, conducts research in carbon-neutral fuel production and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry. He has been active in the religious organization Christian Union Lux, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips, and in the Chaplain’s Office. He is also a peer tutor for the undergraduate course “Chemistry of Food and Cooking.”

Megan He is double majoring in environmental engineering and global affairs, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental engineering. She has conducted research on emissions of organic compounds, atmospheric chemistry, and air quality. She is an engineering tour guide and STEM representative in the Undergraduate Admissions Office, and works as a peer tutor in the physics department. She is also active in the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and Yale Scientific Magazine. 

Ronald Hood is majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry with a certificate in data science. He researches protein-protein electron transfer and dissimilatory metal reduction in electrogenic bacteria. He is the incoming president of the Ivy League Space Coalition, a hardware specialist and queue coordinator of Yale’s Student Technology Collaborative, and serves as a mentor for the nonprofit volunteer mentoring program You Can Too for minority youth. Hood is the founder and data scientist of an intercollegiate team that develops smart contracts that arbitrage synthetic assets on EVM and Solana. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biophysics.

Sarah Zhao, who is majoring in statistics and data science and considering a second major in mathematics, conducts research in statistics theory and optimization. She works as an undergraduate learning assistant for the Department of Statistics and Data Science and participates in outreach to the Greater New Haven area through the Yale Education Tutoring Initiative. She is also a board member of the dance performance organization Yale Movement. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in statistics and data science.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986. Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 94 Rhodes Scholarships, 150 Marshall Scholarships, 170 Churchill Scholarships, 109 Hertz Fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards, including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

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L.A. Paul appointed Millstone Family Professor of Philosophy

L.A. Paul, whose research examines metaphysics, cognitive science, and the philosophy of the mind, has been appointed the Millstone Family Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Cognitive Science. Her appointment was effective Feb. 20.

A member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Paul explores questions about the nature of the self, decision-making, temporal experience, philosophical methodology, causation, causal experience, time and time’s arrow, perception, mereology, constitution, and essence. 

She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors throughout her career, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the Australian National University. She is also the author of three books, including “Causation: A User’s Guide” (Oxford University Press, 2013), which was awarded the American Philosophical Association Sanders Book Prize. In 2020 she received the Dr. Martin R. Lebowitz and Eve Lewellis Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution from the American Philosophical Association and Phi Beta Kappa Society.

A graduate of Antioch College, Paul earned an M.A. in philosophy from Antioch University and Princeton University in 1996 before receiving her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton in 1999. She began her career as an assistant professor of philosophy at Yale until 2001, when she joined the faculty at the University of Arizona. In 2008 she was recruited by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where in 2016 she was named the Eugene Falk Distinguished Professor of Philosophy.

In 2018, Paul returned to Yale as a professor of philosophy and cognitive science. 

L.A. Paul
L.A. Paul

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Elimelech named Sterling Prof. of Chemical and Environmental Engineering

Menachem Elimelech
Menachem Elimelech

Menachem Elimelech, who researches physical and chemical processes at the nexus of water and energy, has been appointed the Sterling Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering. His appointment was effective Feb. 20.

The Sterling Professorship is awarded to a tenured faculty member considered one of the best in his or her field and is one of the university’s highest faculty honors. Elimelech is the first Yale engineer to be named for this professorship since its establishment in 1920.

Elimelech is on the faculty of the School of Engineering & Applied Science and a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The research conducted by his group specifically examines membrane-based processes for energy-efficient desalination and wastewater reuse; advanced materials for next-generation water decontamination technologies; and environmental applications of nanomaterials.

He has received major awards in recognition of his pioneering research. Especially notable are the Eni Award for Protection of the Environment in 2015, election to the National Academy of Engineering in 2006 and the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2017, and, in 2005, the Clarke Prize for excellence in water research. 

Elimelech has authored more than 450 refereed journal publications, including invited articles in Science and Nature, and is the lead author of the book “Particle Deposition and Aggregation” (1995). He is a Highly Cited Researcher in two categories: environment/ecology and chemistry.

He has advised 43 Ph.D. students and 37 postdoctoral researchers, many of whom now hold leading positions in academia and industry. In recognition of his excellence in and dedication to teaching and mentoring, he received the W.M. Keck Foundation Engineering Teaching Excellence Award in 1994, the Yale University Graduate Mentoring Award in 2004, and the Yale University Postdoctoral Mentoring Prize in 2012.

Elimelech received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University. In his first appointment, Elimelech served as professor and vice chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UCLA. Upon coming to Yale in 1998, he founded Yale’s Environmental Engineering Program. The program rose to international prominence and has been ranked in the top 10 of the U.S. News & World Report’s Graduate Engineering Rankings for the past six years. 

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D’Onofrio appointed Albert E. Kent Professor of Emergency Medicine

Gail D’Onofrio
Gail D’Onofrio

Gail D’Onofrio, who is internationally known for her work in alcohol and other substance use disorders as well as her research on gender variations in women with ischemic heart disease, was named Albert E. Kent Professor of Emergency Medicine. Her appointment became effective in October 2020.

D’Onofrio is also the inaugural chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Yale School of Medicine, physician-in-chief of emergency services at Yale New Haven Hospital, and a professor of epidemiology (chronic disease) at Yale School of Public Health.

Her work demonstrating that emergency department-initiated buprenorphine increases engagement in addiction treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) has changed clinical practice, earning her multiple scientific honors, including awards from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the Clinical Research Forum, and the R. Brinkley Smithers and Distinguished Scientist Award by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

D’Onofrio has a long track record of mentoring physician scientists in independent research careers. She is a principal investigator of the Yale Drug use, Addiction, and HIV Research Scholars program, a fellowship that offers focused training in prevention and treatment of drug use, addiction, and HIV in general medical settings with scholars in medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and pulmonary critical care. She has also mentored numerous emergency medicine faculty. She has received several awards in recognition of her dedication to mentorship and nurturing careers of junior investigators, including the Excellence in Mentoring award from the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse (AMERSA 2008), the Advancing Women in Emergency Medicine award from the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM 2016), and the Academy for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine (AWAEM) Outstanding Department Award for the advancement of women (SAEM 2018).

An advocate for individuals with substance use disorder, D’Onofrio is a founding board member of the Board of Addiction Medicine and was one of the architects of a Connecticut strategic plan to reduce opioid deaths, working with multiple agencies regionally and nationally to change policies and introduce interventions to combat the opioid crisis. She also serves on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse for the National Institutes of Health.

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Yale College admits 2,169 applicants from record applicant pool

Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions has completed its review of first-year applications and offered admission to 2,169 of the 46,905 students who applied for the Class of 2025. The newly admitted applicants will be joined by an additional 336 students who were admitted during the 2019-2020 admissions cycle but opted to postpone their matriculation for one year.

Yale College received a record number of applications — an increase of 33% over the previous year (35,220).

Last week President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel shared their optimism that Yale will have a full residential program for undergraduates with faculty conducting classes primarily in person this upcoming fall semester, if public health conditions permit.

The young people we met through the application process have experienced an unbelievable amount of change, disruption, and hardship this past year,” said Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid. “But their resilience, leadership, service to their families and others, and commitment to their academic pursuits have been truly remarkable. Our newest students will bring an extraordinary range of experiences and identities, insights and ambitions, talents and intelligences to Yale.”

Quinlan explained that — despite the increase in applications and disruptions associated with the pandemic — the admissions office retained all the elements of its thoughtful whole-person review process when selecting applicants for the Class of 2025. To preserve the same careful and contextual approach to evaluating applications, officers devoted more hours to reading, and members of the Admissions Committee, unable to gather at the admissions office on Hillhouse Avenue, instead held their deliberations virtually. Applicants also conducted virtual interviews with volunteer members of the Alumni Schools Committee and Yale seniors employed by the admissions office.

Students admitted to the Class of 2025 represent all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 72 countries. They will arrive as graduates of more than 1,600 secondary schools and their intended majors include 79 of Yale’s undergraduate academic programs. 

Last summer, approximately 20% of students admitted to the Class of 2024 opted to take a gap year. Typically, only 3% to 4% of students take this option, but the increase did not force the admissions office to extend fewer offers to students graduating high school in 2021. “I am very grateful to the university leaders who approved our plan to offer admission to the same number of students this cycle as in a typical year,” said Quinlan.

In December, Yale offered admission to 837 applicants through the Early Action program and 72 applicants through the QuestBridge National College Match program. QuestBridge is a national non-profit organization that connects high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds with selective colleges and universities. Those 72 students qualify for Yale’s most generous financial aid award, which includes a “zero parent share,” hospitalization insurance coverage, a $2,000 grant to help with one-time expenses in the first year, and a student share expectation of only $3,700 — an amount equal to Yale’s estimate for out-of-pocket costs like books, laundry, and other personal expenses.

Under policies announced in fall 2019, all U.S. students in families with less than $75,000 in annual income and typical assets qualify for one of these awards. Yale is one of only a handful of U.S. institutions with a “need-blind” admissions policy for all applicants, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, while also meeting the full demonstrated financial need of every student without requiring loans. In the last eight years, the percentage of students in the first-year class receiving Federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to low-income students, has increased from 12% to over 20%.

Despite the disruptions associated with the pandemic, Yale has maintained all of its extraordinary need-based aid policies. This year Yale waived the “student share” portion of financial aid awards for those students enrolling remotely and adjusted the cost of attendance to provide additional aid to account for technology costs for remote learners.

Handsome Dan pays a visit to the Undergraduate Admissions office on Hillhouse Avenue.
Handsome Dan pays a visit to the Undergraduate Admissions office on Hillhouse Avenue.

The Yale campus is closed to visitors this spring, but admitted students (affectionately known as “prefrosh”) and their families will have dozens of opportunities to connect during the Bulldog Days of April — a new collection of virtual welcome events.

Ashleigh Corvi, the admissions office’s director of recruitment, said she’s eager to repeat the success of last year’s inaugural program and expand this year’s program with new events. “There is no true substitute for visiting campus, but the spirit and warmth of the Yale community come through loud and clear in every virtual event we host,” Corvi said.

She also expressed her gratitude to the faculty, administrators, and student group leaders who will host special events for prefrosh, as well as the countless Yale College students who will answer questions and share their experiences through candid conversations. “Yale’s greatest asset is its people, and I’m endlessly impressed by the enthusiasm and generosity our community members extend to our admitted students and their families each spring.” 

Throughout the month of April, prefrosh will be able to chat in a new Admitted Students Network, attend online master classes offered by Yale faculty, watch live-streamed video panels featuring facets of campus life, and explore virtual content from student organizations.

Students will have until May 3 to reply to Yale’s offer of admission.

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Arts and Ideas festival honors Nunez-Smith as ‘Visionary Leader’

Yale’s Marcella Nunez-Smith, a national expert on disparities in healthcare access who is now helping the Biden administration deliver more equitable care and treatment, last week received Visionary Leadership Award from the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven.

Over the past year, few have worked as hard to understand the pandemic’s impact on minoritized communities as Nunez-Smith, associate dean of health equity research at Yale School of Medicine, said Shelley Quiala, the festival’s executive director.

Dr. Nunez-Smith is a local hero and advisory leader whose trailblazing work on social determinants of health came to light during an unprecedented time,” said Quiala. 

The award, which honors one person whose visionary work changes the world, was presented to Nunez-Smith during an online ceremony. (The event was held virtually for a second consecutive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of medicine, public health, and management, has dedicated her life to studying healthcare disparities. She was the co-chair of the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, and currently chairs the U.S. COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. She also founded the Equity Research and Innovation Center (ERIC), which generates actionable research to eliminate health and health care inequity domestically and globally. 

Born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Nunez-Smith first came to the mainland U.S. as a teenager to attend Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and later Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. She earned a master’s degree in health sciences at Yale.

Arts and ideas logo.

In the Virgin Islands, Nunez-Smith said, she “had never formed an identity that included race.” But once in the mainland U.S., she found that racial categories were pervasive. 

I have a stethoscope around my neck, but we cannot match the social cues. Race is just so overpowering for people,” she said during the award event. “The flip side of that also tells its own narrative: If I had a dollar for every time a patient of color has said ‘You know, I never had a physician of color take care of me…’”

Nunez-Smith experienced racism and saw it reflected in the experiences of her patients. But she said the issue was not being discussed in terms of patient health

Every time I walked into a patient’s room, I understood that [there are] these social structural factors,” she said. “Why aren’t we talking about that? Why aren’t we talking about how racism and bias landed this person in this hospital bed? How does it determine the quality of care that they get? It just became something I couldn’t un-see.”

In her White House role, Nunez-Smith is working to center equity in the government’s response to the pandemic and to ensure that the voices of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people are heard in discussions of healthcare. Members of these communities are dying from COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of white Americans as a consequence of unequal working and living conditions, uneven healthcare access and treatment, and other factors. 

We have to make sure that everyone gets full advantage of our country’s scientific discoveries from the PPE [personal protective equipment], to the treatments, to the vaccine,” said Nunez-Smith. “But we understand the social and structural as well. So, that work has to happen in parallel. People are suffering now, not just from grief, but from economic worry. People are struggling to know where the next meal is going to come from [and] whether or not they are going to have a place to live. So we have to commit to investing in that as well.”

Nunez-Smith ended the conversation by talking about her family and how, as a mother of three interracial children, they inspire her work. “It is highly motivating,” she said, “to know that we need to give them a better society than we have now.”

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Turning CO2 and wastewater into something useful, with support from a fan

It’s not often that a breakthrough in sustainable chemistry is influenced by a fan letter.

Yet that’s what happened for Yale chemist Hailiang Wang, whose lab creates small-molecule and nanomaterial catalysts that remove unwanted material from the environment — such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — and turn it into something useful.

In 2019, the journal Nature published a study from Wang’s lab that featured a new carbon dioxide conversion catalyst. Several weeks later, Wang received an email from Robert Tuttle, a Yale alumnus who winters in Naples, Florida, who had read about Wang’s research.

Here we are very concerned about water runoff from Lake Okeechobee and its effect on marine life from hazardous algae blooms and red tide,” wrote Tuttle. “As you may know such runoff contains high levels of nitrates and phosphates from agriculture … When heavy rains occur, it has been necessary for the Army Corps of Engineers to release water east or west into rivers flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic. In past years this has resulted in enormous kills of marine life, toxic effects on human respiration, and loss of tourism revenue.”

At the end of his note, Tuttle offered a suggestion:

What I am wondering is whether your group or any others research[ing] new materials and chemistries are aware of such problems and might find them worthy areas to study,” he wrote. “With new techniques for catalysts such as you devised for carbon capture emerging, I wondered whether others could be devised for the above [mentioned] environmental concern.”

Now, more than a year later, Wang is able to answer yes.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, Wang and colleagues at Yale and the Southern University of Science and Technology in China described a new reaction that focuses on wastewater.

The catalytic reaction converts carbon dioxide and nitrate in wastewater into methylamine. Methylamine is a highly-valued chemical used in the synthesis of many pharmaceutical and agrochemical products. It is currently produced by industry using fossil fuels with high-temperature and high-pressure chemical reactions.

The new reaction is composed of at least eight individual steps that are completed in one reaction process — including the reduction of carbon dioxide, the reduction of nitrate, carbon-nitrogen coupling, and further reduction of the coupled intermediate. This unique cascade process is catalyzed by cobalt phthalocyanine derivative molecules supported on the surface of carbon nanotubes, a type of catalyst developed collaboratively by Wang’s team at Yale and Yongye Liang’s group at Southern University of Science and Technology.

The reaction we’ve developed could enable the sustainable synthesis of methylamine from, essentially, environmental wastes, using renewable electricity at room temperature and atmospheric pressure,” said Wang, who is an associate professor of chemistry and a faculty member of the Energy Science Institute at Yale’s West Campus.

The first author of the study is Yueshen Wu, a former graduate student at Yale who is now at the California Institute of Technology. Yongye Liang of Southern University is co-corresponding author, along with Wang. Zhan Jiang and Zhichao Lin, also of Southern University, are co-authors.

Wang credited his correspondence with Tuttle as part of the inspiration to complete his latest work.

This research was driven by our persistent interest in applying our expertise in catalysis and electrochemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems,” Wang said. “It was also partially motivated by my email conversation with a Yale alumnus.”

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Yale researchers dig into EHR use data – and gender differences

While the shift to electronic health records (EHR) in the medical profession was supposed to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare for doctors and patients alike, many physicians have given the technology low grades.

A new Yale study digs into the data on how physicians are using EHRs, including how time spent using the systems differs by specialty, and what these findings reveal about how the technology can be improved.

One of the key findings is that female physicians spend an average of 30 minutes more per day using EHRs than their male colleagues. The results were published April 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. A related article appeared the same day in JAMA Network.

Now that we’re measuring EHR use more reliably, the finding about female physicians spending more time on the EHR than male physicians likely is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the EHR is not meeting users’ needs,” said lead author Dr. Ted Melnick, associate professor of emergency medicine and biostatistics at Yale.

Over the past decade, the healthcare industry has become increasingly digitized to promote quality, efficiency, and outcomes. In many ways, EHR technologies, which are used by the majority of U.S. doctors, have transformed medical care. They allow for inputting all patient information in digital charts, ordering prescriptions, and tracking changes. However, they have also added significantly to doctors’ workloads and led to burnout, Melnick says.

In a 2019 study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, he found that the majority of physicians surveyed gave their EHRs an “F” rating for usability, and that the rating correlated with burnout.

Last year the American Medical Association provided funding that allowed Melnick to measure core efficiencies of EHR technologies in seven areas proposed by a group of physicians: total EHR time spent during an eight-hour shift, work done outside of standard work hours, documenting patient health, documenting prescriptions, responding to emails, coordinating medical orders, and undivided attention given to patients.

The ensuing study was the first to apply standard measurements across EHR systems using different vendor products — specifically, Yale New Haven Health (which uses the Epic medical software) and Medstar (a Washington, D.C.-area health system which uses technology from the Cerner Corporation). It incorporated data from 573 physicians across multiple specialties.

According to the analysis, there was substantial variation in time spent on the EHR based on specialty. The most time was spent by doctors in gastroenterology, internal medicine, and family medicine. The least time was spent by doctors in the surgical specialties, sports medicine, neurology/psychiatry, and obstetrics/gynecology.

After controlling for physician age, specialty, vendor, and number of hours worked, there was also a significant gender difference in EHR use, with female physicians spending an additional 30 minutes per day on EHRs. It’s not clear what is driving this difference, Melnick said, but it’s a finding he wants to explore.

This finding is so compelling because it suggests that female physicians interact with the EHR in a different way than male physicians do,” he said. “We don’t know what it is, but now that we have a way to measure it and identify it, we can begin to understand it better and hopefully build systems that address those needs.”

The latest study noted that although there are still challenges in standardizing data from different EHRs, the consistent findings around time spent by specialty and gender suggest that there are important lessons to be learned about how EHRs are used and how they can be improved.

Measurement in this space is going to be really important,” Melnick said. “As opposed to us as academics saying ‘This is what the vendor should be doing,’ or vendors delivering dashboards, saying, ‘Here’s your data,’ we need to engage all stakeholders and really start to think about the measures that are going to be meaningful to each group so that we can harness this metadata in a meaningful way to all stakeholders.”

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Biodiversity’s healthy byproduct — nutrient-rich seafood

About a third of people around the world rely on protein from the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes. But the full nutritional value of this seafood depends upon the species diversity in the ecosystem where it was extracted, a new study by researchers at Yale and the University of British Columbia finds.

High levels of biodiversity in aquatic settings offer a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids crucial for human health, including nutrients that are lacking in ecosystems where the number of species have been reduced by overfishing, pollution, or climate change, researchers report April 5 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What we found is that biodiversity is crucial to human health,” said Yale’s Joey Bernhardt, a G. Evelyn Hutchinson Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and co-author of the paper. 

While humans can achieve their protein requirements even with seafood from less-diverse systems, meeting their need for key micronutrients such as calcium, iron, and zinc requires high levels of biodiversity. Seafood sourced from biodiverse ecosystems can help combat a phenomenon known as “hidden hunger,” in which people have access to enough calories, but not enough micronutrients, Bernhardt said.

The effects of aquatic biodiversity change on human health are particularly acute in coastal areas of the world where populations are heavily dependent on seafood in their diets.

For the study, Bernhardt and co-author Mary I. O’Connor of the University of British Columbia, analyzed 7,245 nutrient samples from 801 marine and freshwater finfish and invertebrates. They found that different species have distinct and complementary nutrient profiles. While they detected little difference in the protein content among the aquatic species, they found that concentrations of micronutrients — including calcium and iron — and essential fatty acids varied significantly.  The greater the variety of species, the better these diets were able to achieve nutrient levels recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine.

The results illustrate the importance of monitoring and preserving biodiversity in changing aquatic ecosystems across the globe, the authors say. 

While we have known that biodiversity on land is important for benefits such as forest production, this study provides new evidence that the benefits of biodiversity in oceans and freshwaters are as great as on land,” Bernhardt said. “Ecological concepts of biodiversity can deepen our understanding of nature’s benefits to people and unite sustainability goals for biodiversity and human well-being.”

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