PhD Student, Riginos Green Laboratory Representative, and Reef Check Australia Ambassador (Brisbane).

Delineating hard coral population structure in relation to the seascape

Little is known about the spatial patterning of reef-building hard coral (Sclearactinia) populations. This is an important issue due to the severity of current threats to the world’s declining coral reefs, especially with the increased frequency of mass coral bleaching events caused by anthropogenic climate change. A thorough understanding of population dynamics within the seascape (seascape genetics) can aid our ability to predict coral community change and resilience in face of large scale environmental challenges. Thus, this understanding will enable the development of methods that can appropriately target populations (or areas) for effective conservation.

In my PhD, I will investigate populations of multiple scleractinian species using novel next generation sequencing techniques and correlate population connectivity and structuring with the physical characteristics of the seascape. The genetic technique I will be employing is restriction enzyme associated DNA sequencing (RADseq). The benefits of this technique are in allowing the comparison of diverse areas of the genome without full genome sequencing and the necessity of a reference genome. Extensive sequencing of many individuals using reduced genome methods can give insights into patterns of variation from a full range of evolutionary processes previously neglected in molecular ecology. I will first study the seascape genetics of the Agaricia genus in the Caribbean.