AREAS OF RESEARCH
Marine ecosystems offer unique opportunities to study basic principles of ecology, complementing insights gained from terrestrial systems. Coral reefs, due to their high diversity and the relative ease for observational science, facilitate detailed study of population dynamics, species interactions, and successional ecology. Our team uses coral reef ecosystems as a natural laboratory to address fundamental ecological questions, including:
What roles do predators play in structuring of marine communities? Observations across
gradients of fisheries exploitation suggest that the trophic structure of marine
communities are far from static, especially in terms of the relative ubiquity of predators.
Can these predators change the pattern of trophic flow through the food web, or do the
predators themselves change their diets in response to proportional shifts of resources?
How does competition help to define marine landscapes? Fish and other heterotrophs
compete for available food, and corals and other sedentary organisms compete for a space
to live. There are myriad strategies for battling with your neighbor, and marine organisms
are famous for their diversity of competitive approaches. We focus much effort on
finding ways to document patterns of competition and to considering strategies and
outcomes competitive ‘arms races’ in the ocean.
Can we improve our quantitative means of following ecological succession? Marine
communities look quite different immediately following disturbance relative to many
years later. The first organisms to colonize a community after a big storm event, for
example, are different than the organisms that dominate the landscape decades later.
Given how vast our ocean ecosystems are, there is an incredible opportunity to explore
patterns of community change, using space-for-time substitutions or, with a little patience,
time series data. We couple theoretical explorations with coordinated data collection
to explore this important topic of ecological succession in the sea.
SCIENCE IN ACTION
Academics have a responsibility to conduct robust and agnostic inquiry, and they also have a responsibility to make the findings available to audiences in need of the insights. We believe that ecologists are essential members of the resource management community, offering advice regarding the likely consequences of current or proposed management strategies. Through collaboration with social scientists and through active outreach efforts, we strive to communicate our results to a broad cross-section of our community.