Research

My research uses large-scale ecological datasets to answer general questions in ecology, and to help improve management of threatened ecosystems. I am currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Lancaster Environment Centre, where I am working with Prof. Nick Graham and the Seychelles Fishing Authority to improve our understanding of climate impacts on reef fisheries productivity. Stay tuned!

PhD thesis

Disentangling human degradation from environmental constraints: macroecological insights into the structure of coral reef fish and benthic communities. Department of Biology, University of Victoria, BC, Canada.

In my PhD research, I examined how anthropogenic and environmental drivers interacted to influence Pacific coral reef fish and benthic communities. I used monitoring data from NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Programme that span over 40 US-affiliated Pacific reef areas, ranging from remote, pristine atolls (Palmyra, Wake) to populated, degraded islands (Oahu, Guam), and span strong temperature and productivity gradients across the Pacific Ocean. Using a space-for-time approach, I examined how reef fish size structure and benthic community composition varied across anthropogenic and environmental gradients.

Across the Pacific, I showed that reef fish size structure became increasingly degraded as human presence increases. Irrespective of fisheries type and fish diversity, fished reef were dominated by smaller fishes, reflecting the effect of size-selective fishing in depleting large fish biomass. These patterns mirrored those observed in overfished temperate systems, and indicated that fished reefs are dominated by small, low trophic level fishes.

For benthic communities, I showed that dominance of calcifiers (hard coral and calcified coralline algae) was primarily driven by abiotic influences – temperature, productivity, wave energy and aragonite saturation – and the presence of scraping and excavating parrotfishes. Calcified reefs were typical of warm, productive, and high aragonite regions, in areas of low wave energy. Algal reefs were common at higher latitudes, or at overfished reefs with severely depleted herbivore populations (<10 kg/ha²).

My PhD research was done in collaboration with Dr. Ivor Williams (NOAA), Dr. Andrew Edwards (Fisheries & Oceans Canada), Dr. Jana McPherson (Calgary Zoo), Dr. Lauren Yeager (SESYNC), Dr. Jeanette Clark (NOAA), Dr. Tom Oliver (NOAA), and under the supervision of Dr. Julia Baum (University of Victoria).

 

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