Our group studies coral reef ecosystems to answer fundamental questions of population biology, trophic dynamics, and spatial ecology.
Marine ecosystems offer unique opportunities to study basic principles of ecology, complementing insights gained from terrestrial systems. Coral reefs, in particular, facilitate detailed study of population dynamics and species interactions. We focus our efforts to understand the role that reef fish play in controlling ecosystem dynamics, with specific interests in predator-prey and competitive interactions.
Given the conservation significance of coral reef ecosystems, we make efforts to link our research with tangible problems that are of interest to the management community. We are currently applying ecological studies to answer two core questions:
- What type of management maximizes the long-term yield of tropical reef fisheries?
- Which members of the reef community are most valuable for buffering coral reef ecosystems from the growing effects of global climate change?
Our research is focused in two regions. In the islands and atolls of the remote central Pacific, we explore ecological dynamics across gradients of anthropogenic and oceanographic conditions. This area includes a number of uninhabited islands, offering unique opportunities to study the ecology of so-called ‘baseline’ reef ecosystems, namely reefs in the absence of local human activities like fishing and pollution. On the coral reefs of the more densely populated Caribbean (largely on Curacao in southern Caribbean), we study how human activities can affect coral growth or be managed to improve coral growth and recovery.
We believe that ecologists are essential members of the resource management community, offering advice regarding the likely consequences of current or proposed management strategies. Through collaboration with social scientists and through active outreach efforts, we strive to communicate our results to a broad cross-section of our community.