I am broadly interested in community
ecology, specifically considering the predictable and deterministic
dynamics of interacting populations. My theoretical and empirical work
has been focused on coral reef communities, covering a broad spectrum
of anthropogenically disturbed and undisturbed conditions.
Current Projects - Palmyra and the Line Islands
There are almost no pristine coral reefs in the world. Former reefs full of sharks, large fishes, sea turtles, and healthy corals are all but gone. Impacts such as chronic over-fishing, pollution, climate change, and disease have deteriorated reefs. One of the major problems for the conservation of coral reefs is that we seldom have ecological baselines against which to compare present reefs. Such quantitative baselines can reveal the ecological characteristics that have been lost and potentially can guide us toward strategies to restore degraded reefs. To supply an ecological baseline, the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation has conducted a thorough study of the ecosystems of two of the most pristine coral reefs remaining, those surrounding Palmyra atoll and Kingman reef in the Line Islands. With a diverse team of reef ecologists from various institutions, we described the diversity and structure of the reef communities, sampling all major taxonomic groups, including the microbes, algae, corals, other invertebrates, and fish. In order to quantify the effects of human disturbance on coral reef ecosystems, we conducted comparable surveys on two inhabited islands of the Line Islands archipelago, Tabuaeran and Kiritibati. This survey (August/September 2005) has offered a unique view into the groups of organisms that are lost, the species interactions that are altered, and the trophic dynamics that are changed as humans disturb a reef. Through more recent and ongoing investigations in the region, we are detailing the functional consequences associated with dramatic alteration of food web structure.
- Predictability of marine community succession
a variety of analytical techniques I have been considering dynamics of
marine communities, specifically identifying the ecological impacts of
humans on community development and succession. These research efforts
include theoretical advances of marine ecosystem dynamics, synthesis
and analysis of community data from marine habitats across the globe,
and alternative statistical treatments of mechanistic studies.
- Population regulation and the implications
Knowing the dominant source of population regulation via density-dependent dynamics is crucial to the effective design of management and restoration efforts for conservation. A population that is regulated by competition for food will react quite differently to growth (or decline) of a predator population than will a population regulated directly by these predators. I have been working to resolve seemingly conflicting results from the literature to find consensus in the dominant dynamics and forms of density dependence acting in natural and recovering reef fish communities. Related research on the demographics of coral populations is revealing new insights into mechanisms structuring tropical, benthic populations and highlighting the fundamental role of microbes in coral ecology.
- Coral reef education
an effort to share information about coral reef biology, I have been
helping Neilan Kuntz and Dr. Forest Rohwer at San Diego State
University to develop online educational tools. Short videos and
mini-documentaries can be found at: www.coralreefmultimedia.org
UC San Diego, B.S. Ecology, Behavior, & Evolution, 1994
Princeton University, Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2002
Princeton University, Lecturer and Research Associate, 2002-2003
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Postgraduate Researcher, 2004-2007