Coral reefs have been around for millions of years, with the reefs we see today emerging between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. Today, corals are facing an onslaught of anthropogenic challenges to their existence. When environments change or become more challenging, organisms can persist through four processes:
- Remain in the same place but suffer reduced fitness
- Acclimate to local conditions by changing physiologically
- Adapt to the challenges via existing genetic variation in the population
- Disperse to new, more favorable environments
Yet when the environmental changes outpace these natural processes, organisms can go extinct. Today, rapid, global climate change poses the greatest threat to coral reefs. Understanding how coral reefs will change in response to climate change requires elucidating how each of these four processes exerts control over coral health, survival, and dispersion on both small and large scales. These effects may differ by location, coral species, and even by individual colony.
Our lab seeks to understand exactly how and why these differences in responses occur by using genetic and physiological tools.
Current research includes:
- Characterizing coral resilience to multiple stressors
- Identifying local adaptation and its effects
- Characterizing population range expansion
- Understanding the diversity and dynamics of the coral-algal symbiosis and its impact on resilience