Research

I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, BC, Canada. My research uses large-scale ecological datasets to answer general questions in ecology, and to help improve management of threatened ecosystems.

PhD thesis

In my PhD research I examine how anthropogenic and environmental drivers shape the structure of Pacific coral reef fish communities. Drawing on concepts that were initially developed in temperate aquatic systems, I examine size-based patterns using data from NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Programme that monitors over 40 US-affiliated Pacific islands and atolls.

The islands surveyed range from remote, pristine reefs (Palmyra, Wake) to populated, degraded reefs (Oahu, Guam), and span strong temperature and productivity gradients across the Pacific Ocean. Using a space-for-time approach, I examine how reef fish community structure varies across these anthropogenic and environmental gradients.

Across the Pacific, I show that reef fish size structure becomes increasingly degraded as human presence increases. Irrespective of fisheries type and fish diversity, reef fish communities become dominated by smaller fishes as size-selective fishing removes the biomass of large fishes. These patterns mirror those observed in overfished temperate systems, and indicate that fished reefs are dominated by small, low trophic level fishes.

Degraded size structure may influence the ability of a reef ecosystem to respond to other anthropogenic disturbances. For example, the removal of large parrotfishes will reduce grazing function provided by herbivorous fishes, and may cause reef systems to overgrow with algae. I am currently investigating the impacts of exploitation on herbivorous fish size structure, and associated impacts on reef benthic communities.

This research is done in collaboration with Dr. Ivor Williams (NOAA), Dr. Andrew Edwards (Fisheries & Oceans Canada), Dr. Jana McPherson (Calgary Zoo), Dr. Lauren Yeager (SESYNC), and under the supervision of Dr. Julia Baum (University of Victoria).