My research on octocorals in Puerto Rico is in collaboration with Dr. Ernesto Weil.
Co-infection is the reality for organisms living in a natural environment, but relatively little has been done to uncover the role of multiple parasites in the wild. Laboratory based research points to important ways that parasites can interact within a host, with a variety of consequences for host health. However, field studies of co-infection are sparse. My research contributes to the emerging body of work on natural co-infections.
In addition to the many large scale stressors that corals must contend with, there are important local stressors that further influence coral health. Pollution is a local stressor that can have devastating effects on marine life, but may also be more tractable to resolve at a local scale. One aspect of my research focuses on the effects of pollutants on octocorals.
Host-parasite interactions are a normal part of healthy ecosystems, but environmental stressors can tip the balance in favor of the parasite. For example, conditions that lead to suppressed host immune function can allow a parasite to devastate the population.
I am currently exploring the relationship between ecological factors and immune function in sea fan octocorals in the Caribbean. The purple sea fan, Gorgonia ventalina, is a well-characterized species of soft coral that harbors a variety of pathogenic organisms. I am particularly interested in the unexpected outcomes of multiple stressors for coral disease and immunity.
Coral microbial communities
Coral microbes can play an important role in both healthy and diseased corals. In addition to the microbes that cause disease, there are also microbes that are essential for healthy function and provide critical services to the coral host. I am interested in the role the environment plays in shaping these microbial communities and some of my past research investigates this question in the octocoral, Gorgonia ventalina. In the future, I hope to further pursue questions about the microbial communities in complex environments and the ensuing effects on the host.
Marine disease in a changing ocean
I am currently working on a project to assess whether marine disease is changing with the advent of the Anthropocene.
Local adaptation in Seagrass Wasting Disease
Morgan Eisenlord, another Harvell lab graduate student, studies Wasting Disease of seagrass in the Pacific Northwest. I am collaborating with her to study local adaptation at Friday Harbors Laboratories.
Friday Harbors Laboratories, Graduate Research Grant Betty Miller Francis ’47 Fund Cornell Graduate School, Research Travel Grant National Geographic Young Explorers, Young Explorers Grant American Academy of Underwater Sciences, Kathy Johnston Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Sustainable Biodiversity The Explorers Club, Student Grants Paul P. Feeny Graduate Research Fund Sigma Xi, Cornell chapter Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Graduate student grant Sigma Xi, National chapter National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship Presidential Life Sciences Fellowship, Cornell University