We study the evolutionary ecology of marine organisms ranging from reef corals to their microbes as well as diverse array of other marine taxa (e.g. snails, lobsters, algae). Our approach is to combine experimental manipulations in the field and lab with cutting edge genetic techniques like next-generation DNA and RNA sequencing.
Our favorite study organisms are the Caribbean Acropora corals [common name, Staghorn and Elkhorn coral], which have been decimated by White Band Disease (WBD) over the past thrity years and are now listed as threatened on the US Endangered Species Act. We have shown that 6% or more of staghorn corals are naturally resistant to WBD. This first evidence of disease resistance in tropical reef corals demonstrates that corals may be more resilient than thought to rising disease epidemics and other stressors brought on by global climate change.
Current research in the lab is focused on identifying the genetic bases of coral innate immunity, pathogen recognition, and host resistance, and furthering our knowledge about the WBD pathogen and the ecological factors driving WBD outbreaks.