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Tropical Coral Reefs

Coral Reef Stamp

My original experience studying coral reefs using SCUBA was my postdoctoral work at the University of Hawai'i, hosted by Dr. George Losey, where I focused in the effects of grazing by different groups of fishes on ecological succession and local species diversity of seaweeds in collaboration with Bill Brostoff [now at the U. S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station] (1983 Science, 1996 Ecological Monographs, etc.).  This work led to a theoretical model on the combined effects of predation and prey refuges on the local species diversity of prey, published with Dr. Bruce Menge [OSU] (1991 Theoretical Population Biology).  Subsequently, I studied the role of predation and prey refuges in structuring ecological communities of reef fishes in the U.S. Virgin Islands with Dr. Jim Beets [now at the University of Hawai'i] (1993 Ecological Monographs, etc.), early post-settlement mortality of unicorn surgeonfish in French Polynesia with a team of Australian and French scientists (2004 Ecology), and the role of predation vs competition in regulating local population sizes of Ambon's damselfish on the Great Barrier Reef with Dr. Geoff Jones [James Cook University] (2005 Ecology).  Currently, my lab works mostly at the Caribbean Marine Research Center (CMRC) in the Bahamas.  Here, including collaboration with postdoctoral associates Mark Carr [now a professor at U.C. Santa Cruz] and Todd Anderson [now a professor at San Diego State University], we experimentally manipulated the abundance of newly settled fish, the abundance of their potential predators and competitors, and reef structure (which provides shelter from predation) to determine the relative roles of these factors in driving population dynamics and regulating community structure (1996 Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 1997 Science, 1998 Australian Journal of Ecology, 2002 Ecology, 2002 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, etc.).

More recently, we conducted studies of the function of marine protected areas (MPAs), testing the two mechanisms by which MPAs are thought to replenish marine populations: (1) the "spillover" effect, whereby fish that settle and grow inside MPAs eventually swim to adjacent fished areas, thereby sustaining fisheries, and (2) the "seeding" effect, whereby larvae spawned by fish inside MPAs disperse to and replenish fished populations outside MPAs.  Research on spillover, in collaboration with Dr. Craig Dahlgren [Perry Institute for Marine Science], involved tagging and tracking Nassau grouper in and about the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park in the Bahamas, and well as near CMRC.  Research on seeding involved genetic studies (led by my PhD student Mark Christie) of bicolor damselfish at multiple sites within the Bahamas, providing information on larval dispersal as well as self-recruitment (Molecular Ecology 2010). Also, in collaboration with Drs. Jim Beets [University of Hawai'i], Brian Tissot [Washington State University], and Stosh Thompson [Cascadia Conservation Trust], we demonstrated the seeding effect on yellow tang in MPAs on the Big Island of Hawai'i (PLoS One 2010). This species is probably the most collected aquarium fish in the world, and is now protected by a network of fishery MPAs along the Kohala-Kona coast.  Recent projects have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Undersea Research Program, and Conservation International.  Our present focus is the ecological effects of and biotic resistance to the invasion of Atlantic coral reefs by Pacific lionfish (see "Lionfish Invasion").