We are pleased to announce the arrival of a new doctor in the world of marine ecology, Dr. Tali Vardi, PhD!

On Dec. 2, 2011, Tali presented her thesis, entitled “Population dynamics of the threatened Atlantic Elkhorn Coral”. She described the biology and demography of the Caribbean coral, Acropora palmata. Working with Drs. Margaret Miller and Dana Williams from NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Tali quantitatively followed the population changes of elkhorn coral in Florida. This work is probably the most comprehensive modern assessment of the population biology of this species, and unfortunately the results were not encouraging. Without aggressive improvements of conditions for elkhorn coral in the Florida Keys, the population appears poised for continued declines and functional extinction. Tali demonstrated, however, that active management (as by outplanting of young coral colonies) or habitat improvements (as by fisheries regulations or pollution restrictions) can provide some relief for the beleaguered population, offering some chance for recovery.

Tali worked beyond the borders of the US, adding insights into the spatial variation of elkhorn coral population patterns from Jamaica, Curacao, and a few other Caribbean islands. Although she showed similar patterns of decline in the populations across all of these islands, there was a silver lining. The recovery of the herbivorous long-spined sea urchin in Jamaica appears linked with an improvement in the population trajectory of elkhorn corals. Similarly, areas that are relatively far from the physical impacts of hurricanes appear to support more stable populations of elkhorn corals. It is important to note, however, that none of these locations showed population patterns mimicking historical accounts of luxuriant and prodigious growth of the species. Across the Caribbean basin, there is a ubiquitous stress to this species and its sister species, staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), and a common need for aggressive management to improve the outlook for the species.

While the west coast may be losing Tali, the east coast has gained a terrific new ocean advocate. Tali leaves San Diego for Washington, D.C., where she will be supported by a Knauss Fellowship, working in the central offices of NOAA. Tali has been a great member of our lab, a friend and colleague to many, and a constant source of honesty and bright spirit. We will certainly miss her, but we wish her and her family the best as they move on to the next steps of saving the world. Thanks for the times here, Tali, and don’t forget to write!