Disruptions in the coral holobiont have been correlated with disease, which is a major cause of coral mortality in tropical reefs worldwide. However, the complex nature of the holobiont has made it difficult to incontrovertibly identify a causative agent for most diseases. Certain bacterial species may have a direct role in inducing coral disease or making corals more vulnerable to environmental conditions, yet the functional consequences for corals of most bacterial species have not been determined.
Central focus: Studying the phylogeography and pathogenesis of an obligate intracellular coral parasite within the bacterial order Rickettsiales. The presence of this parasite is correlated with decreased coral health as well as coral White Band Disease, and its growth is stimulated by an excess of nitrogen in the form of nutrient pollution. By probing the genome of this newly-discovered organism, I hope to discover genetic basis for these effects on coral health and study differences in virulence between strains found in the Caribbean and those in the Pacific. Additionally, I will experimentally test the effects of this parasite on coral host immune health through transcriptomics during a nutrient-enriched tank experiment as part of our partnership with Mote Marine Lab in Summerland Key, FL.
Other projects: 3D modeling of reefs affected by naturally-occured CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea through Tara Pacific. My research uses innovative data visualization methods to evaluate variation in the coral holobiont at local and regional scales throughout the South Pacific.