Marine population connectivity

Our research revolves around the concept of connected metapopulations. Metapopulations are networks of connected sub-populations. But what connects them? For many marine organisms, these sub-populations are connected by larvae dispersing on ocean currents. In others, adult individuals may move between populations. How connected a metapopulation is – or will be in the future – can determine whether or not it will persist in time and space. We're interested in the application of metapopulation theory to the study and conservation of coral reef organisms, and in developing metapopulation theory of the coastal ocean.

Coral reefs & refugia

Refuges, or refugia, are habitats that are consistently removed from a stress or perturbation. In the case of coral reefs, deeper mesophotic reefs may be one example. Their depth and distance from shore allows corals and associated plants and animals to live in slightly cooler, darker, and less polluted water. But in order for refuges to support metapopulation persistence, connectivity - or the exchange of larvae - must occur at levels that exceeds extinction rates. We're interested in the characterization and mapping of reef refugia, how environmental conditions on mesophotic reefs affects the physiology of reef organisms, and population and community dynamics in these under-explored ecosystems.

 

Reproductive biology

For marine organisms that disperse as larvae, we have an opportunity to inform connectivity and metapopulation modeling by looking at adult reproductive strategy, fecundity, and larval ecology. For example, we collect coral tissues and utilize reproductive histology and microscopy to investigate the development of gametes in corals in different environments.

Ecological & simulation modeling

Marine larvae are tiny, and notoriously difficult to keep track of. How do we know where larvae from one reef will end up? How do we know where adults on another reef came from? What proportion of adults were born and live in the same place? One way to tackle this complicated set of questions is through larval dispersal modeling. We integrate organismal and larval biology with models of hydrography, and use Lagrangian particle tracking to develop probabilities of dispersal and connectivity between habitats.