Coral genomics across the "reefscape"

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, between populations associated with distinct reef habitats (within species), and often even within populations. By combining conservation genomics approaches and large-area underwater imaging, we aim to explore how neutral and adaptive processes shape coral populations across “reefscapes”, and how that affects their ability to persist into the future.

Understanding coral reef biodiversity

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 alternative methods of characterizing patterns of coral biodiversity in space and time.

Mesophotic coral ecosystems

Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) are light-dependent coral communities that occur at depths beyond regular diving limits (~30-150 m). Although these communities can occupy areas equivalent to that of shallow reefs, they remain largely undocumented and are often not considered in conservation planning. We aim to characterize the ecology and biodiversity of these ecosystems, and evaluating their vulnerability in the context of a rapidly changing environment.

Photo by Kathryn Whitney - California Academy of Sciences