Global Coral Microbiome Project (2015-Present):

Pennsylvania State University
Oregon State University
Postdoctoral Research

Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet, and provide substantial economic and ecological benefits to coastal communities. Corals are composed of both the Cnidarian animal host and complex communities of unique and underexplored microbial organisms. Today these natural wonders are in global decline, threatened by the intersecting effects of multiple stressors including overfishing, pollution, and climate change. These stressors can alter coral microbial communities in ways that may make corals more susceptible to disease or algal competition. The Global Coral Microbiome Project aims to describe microbial diversity across all major groups of reef-building corals in each of several distinct ecosystems across the globe, to determine the genome sequences and metabolic capabilities of key coral bacteria, and to test whether the composition of coral microbial communities helps to explain the overall vulnerability or resistance of different coral species to stress or disease.

Understanding drivers of coral health and disease on Indo-Pacific reefs

James Cook University
Australian Institute of Marine Science
PhD Research

In the past decade, a virulent group of coral diseases known as white syndromes have impacted reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific, including the Great Barrier Reef, Christmas Island, Rowley Shoals, the Marshall Islands, Palau, American Samoa, and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. However, the lack of a detailed case study of white syndrome, combining field-based disease monitoring with laboratory-based analyses of coral and seawater samples, represents a major impediment to the development of management options for minimizing the occurrence and impacts of these diseases. This study aims to fill this knowledge gap by characterizing the environmental (e.g. water temperature, light intensity, sediment load, turbidity), host (e.g. immune status, population density, zooxanthellae clade) and microbial (e.g. coral-associated bacterial community, pathogen strain) factors that contribute to white syndrome pathogenesis. I will provide a comprehensive case definition for white syndrome based on field observations and laboratory analyses, which will be used to compare white syndrome cases throughout the Indo-Pacific.

Phylogeography and detection of the coral pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus (2008-2010):

James Cook University
Australian Institute of Marine Science
College of Charleston
Masters Research

Coral diseases represent an emerging threat to coral reefs worldwide. To enhance understanding of the impact, spread, and underlying causes of coral disease, rapid and highly sensitive diagnostic tools are required to specifically detect and quantify coral pathogens. Vibrio coralliilyticus represents a good model system for the development of novel coral pathogen diagnostic tools since it has been implicated as the etiological agent responsible for bleaching and tissue lysis in a number of scleractinian coral species throughout the Indo-Pacific. A real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based detection assay for V. coralliilyticus was developed. This assay was highly sensitive and inhibition from bacteria other than V. coralliilyticus was minimal. This assay represents a novel approach to coral disease diagnosis and provides a useful tool for coral pathogen detection and accurate diagnosis that will play a vital role in advancing the field of coral disease research.

Understanding the role of sympatric and allopatric speciation events in shaping the phylogeny of the sea urchin genus Diadema (2007):

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)
STRI Short Term Fellowship

To gain a deeper insight into the evolutionary history of the sea urchin genus Diadema, mitochondrial and bindin-encoding genes from a diverse selection of Diadema species were sequenced. The bindin protein, which is involved in sea urchin sperm–egg recognition and adhesion, is thought to be under positive selection in genera with sympatric species but evolves neutrally in genera in which all species are allopatric.  The phylogenetic data from this study and the current distribution of Diadema species suggest that extant Diadema species have evolved generally, but not exclusively, through allopatric speciation events.

Lethal and sub-lethal effects of reduced salinity on the bay scallop, Argopecten irradians, at elevated seawater temperatures (2005):

Mote Marine Laboratory
NSF-Funded Research Experience for Undergraduates Fellowship

Northern bay scallop (Argopecten irradians) populations are known to be sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and salinity. However, the effect of low salinity and high temperature on southern populations has not been investigated. In this study, field and laboratory experiments were conducted to delineate the effects of temperature and salinity on survival and feeding rates of Florida bay scallops. Scallop feeding rates were significantly decreased at low salinities (10-15 ppt), while temperature (20, 25 and 30°C) had no significant effect. Mortality increased at lower salinities at all temperatures and mortality was increased at higher temperatures within salinity treatments. In field experiments, scallops deployed at sites with average salinities of less than 15 ppt suffered 100% mortality, while scallops deployed at sites with average salinities of greater than 15 ppt suffered 5% mortality. These results served as a guide for bay scallop restoration efforts in Pine Island Sound, Florida.

 University of Kentucky - Science and Technology Advancement Center (2005):

Development of a catheter for near-infrared identification and quantification of collagen, elastin, and cholesterol in atherosclerotic plaques.