Coral conservation genomics...
Coral reefs across the world are undergoing rapid deterioration due to a combination of local and global stressors. Although this has resulted in a worldwide decline of coral cover overall, there is substantial variation in the susceptibility of different coral species, different populations within a species (e.g. associated with distinct reef habitats), and even different individuals within a population. Using genomic approaches, we study the diversity and viability of coral populations, to assess their ability to persist into the future.
...across the underwater "landscape"
Reef-building corals (Order Scleractinia) form the structural framework of coral reefs, and provide the foundation upon which all reef organisms (including corals themselves) depend. By creating digital models of the reef framework, and genotyping the coral communities they contain, we assess how genetic diversity is distributed across the “reefscape”, infer the underlying ecological and adaptive processes, and explore the capacity for adaptation through selection on standing genetic variation.
Understanding coral diversity...
Our understanding of scleractinian coral biodiversity on tropical reefs has been greatly hampered by the difficulty of accurate in situ taxonomic identification, lack of informative genetic markers, and the emerging pattern of overwhelming cryptic diversity. As such, despite the major changes that coral reefs are undergoing as a consequence of climate change, it remains unclear how coral biodiversity is affected and whether certain species are driven to (local) extinction. Leveraging massively parallel sequencing approaches, we aim to explore the ecological relevance of “cryptic diversity”, and work towards novel methods of characterizing patterns of coral biodiversity in space and time.
...from shallow to deep
Over the past decades the majority of research attention has focused on shallow coral reefs (<30 m). However, we know that coral communities extend much deeper, can occupy similar areas compared to shallow reef, but yet remain largely undocumented and are often not considered in conservation planning. Extending our work from shallow reefs, we aim to characterize the ecology and biodiversity of these “mesophotic coral ecosystems” (MCEs), and evaluate their vulnerability in the context of increasing human pressure.
Photo by Kathryn Whitney - California Academy of Sciences