PhD Student

Melissa Garren

Undergraduate Degree:  B.S. Molecular Biology

Undergraduate University: Yale University



Advisor:  Dr. Farooq Azam
Brief Bio: Technically, I’m a molecular biologist by training, but I fell in love with the marine world during my undergraduate thesis.  I had the good fortune of stumbling into a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute fellowship that allowed me to use molecular techniques to study the distributions of symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, associated with corals in Dr. Nancy Knowlton’s lab in Panama. After graduating from Yale in 2003, I went to work for a Costa Rican wildlife refuge as their resident marine biologist.  (Yes, they knew I only had limited knowledge of the marine things, but luckily I was the most qualified person they could find for the salary they had to offer!)  My job was to help the community establish a long-term monitoring project as well as to head a multi-tiered educational initiative. This experience targeted my broader interests in marine conservation into a desire to understand how we can create sustainable, practical solutions at the community level that result in reef biodiversity and habitat conservation.   

The other side of my interest in coral reefs ties in more closely tied with my molecular background.  Spending so much time underwater showed me just how quickly a landscape can change due to disease.   I want to study the bacterial communities of corals, especially those that are pathogenic.  I hope to use the interdisciplinary nature of the IGERT program to help me not only study the biochemistry of coral-bacteria interactions, but to then communicate those findings with a broad range of audiences and apply them to community oriented conservation efforts.

Research Interests
Microbial ecology on coral reefs

M. Garren, S. Walsh, A. Caccone, N. Knowlton 2006.  Patterns of association between Symbiodinium and members of the Montastraea annularis species complex on spatial scales ranging from within colonies to between geographic regions.  Coral Reefs  25: 503-512