As a marine ecologist, I am driven by the belief that increasing our understanding of disturbance and climate change impacts on ecosystems can allow us to design and implement intervention methods to promote ecological resilience, including species management, water management, and restoration.
As an adjunct scientist with Mote Marine Laboratory, my research focuses on three main questions:
- What influences how species and ecosystems respond (or fail to respond) to disturbances and stressors?
- How, when and why do species interactions (like predation, competition, and facilitation) alter these processes?
- How can we prevent or reverse ecosystem stressors and associated declines with applied science, like bycatch reduction research or active restoration techniques?
I focus mostly on the roles of extreme disturbances like marine heat waves, hurricanes, and coral diseases to answer these questions, and work mostly with seagrasses, corals, and sharks. I have used field experiments, lab experiments, surveys, and submersible camera technology to address my research foci.
My interests in disturbance ecology stem from repeatedly seeing the ecosystems I study be impacted by extreme climate events. My PhD dissertation research under Dr. Mike Heithaus at Florida International University focused on understanding how marine heat waves influence seagrass ecosystems, after my study system- Shark Bay, Western Australia- was hit by an unprecedented marine heat wave, resulting in major temperate seagrass loss.
Through a combination of observational and experimental work, I estimated the impact of seagrass loss to the local megafauna community and determined whether or not predation risk generated by tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) could stabilize that community following such a destructive event. This triggered a greater interest in how consumers and extreme events can influence each other to influence the resilience and recovery of disturbed ecosystems. At Mote, I worked on the impacts of Hurricane Irma on seagrass ecosystems (the strongest storm to hit the keys in over 80 years), the influence of seagrass-coral dynamics on infection and mortality rates of coral from Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, the worst disease to hit the Caribbean in decades, and how to reduce nurse shark bycatch in spiny lobster traps, among other projects.