US East Coast / Atlantic:

Using a temperate, urban coral as a model system

We have a natural laboratory and science playground in our own backyard. New England intertidal and subtidal ecosystems are as hardy as New Englanders themselves… surviving hot hot summers, frigid winters, and everything in between. In addition, our coastal waters run adjacent to some of the largest urban centers in the US, and thus provide an excellent opportunity to examine urban marine ecology along a large spatial gradient (the US East Coast). Though many marine species live in these habitats, there lies a unique coral curiosity: a temperate, facultatively symbiotic hard coral – Astrangia poculata – which is a perfect coral lab rat (aka model system), in addition to being fascinating in its own right. With this system, we can probe the nature and role of symbiosis in coral growth, morphology, physiology and ecology, thus providing a deeper mechanistic understanding of how corals respond to global change.

Rotjan started working on this coral while still a graduate student at Tufts University, in collaboration with Jay Dimond (then a masters student at URI), and now co-leads a growing group of scientists and collaborators interested in this species, along with Koty Sharp (RWU) and Sean Grace (Southern Ct State University).

Some of our favorite projects include:

  1. The role of symbiosis in coral wound healing and repair (Check out lab alumna Dr. Liz Burmester’s work on this!)
  2. The interplay between heterotrophic and autotrophic (symbiotic) nutrition
  3. Game theory dynamics to explore the nature of symbiosis
  4. Microbial ecology of facultative symbiosis
  5. Facultative coral ecology along the US East Coast
  6. Corals as urban indicators for microplastics and pollutants
  7. Astrangia in a strange land” – looking for range expansions and deep populations in a changing ocean
  8. Building a scientific community to launch Astrangia poculata as a model system