The Symbiosis Ecology and Evolution Laboratory
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Research Topics

Biodiversity and Biogeography

Speciation in Eukaryotic Microbes

Functional Diversity of
Host-Symbiont Partnerships

Molecular and Cellular Interactions

Reef-building corals are mutualisms between calcifying cnidarians (scleractinia) and photosynthetic endosymbionts, dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium, also called zooxanthellae. These photosynthetic unicellular protists provide the chemical energy for constructing and sustaining the most diverse of marine ecosystems on the planet. Unfortunately, their animal partnerships have exhibited extreme sensitivity to anomalous spikes in sea surface temperature, attributed to El Niño Southern Oscillations events and global warming. Corals reefs have shown remarkable resiliency in times of severe climate change over immense geological time. Ironically, these ecosystems are now among the most endangered on the planet. The continued mass mortality of coral communities threatens the loss of thousands, and potentially millions, of marine species and the economies of numerous countries.

To advance the limited understanding of this system, my students and I conduct basic research that focuses primarily on the ecology, biogeography and evolution of zooxanthellae. As with most microbes, their cryptic morphology and difficulty in culturing have made them a challenge to study in the past. This has changed with the development and application of molecular based approaches. Indeed, the molecular revolution has initiated a renaissance of discovery concerning the diversity, ecology, evolution, and systematics of all microscopic life.

Find out more about our research in the following topics:
Biodiversity and Biogeography | Speciation in Eukaryotic Microbes
Functional Diversity of Host-Symbiont Partnerships | Molecular and Cellular Interactions

the U.S. National Science Foundation

"We search for something that will seem like truth to us; we search for understanding;
we search for that principle which keys us deeply into the pattern of all life."

- John Steinbeck
  The Log from the Sea of Cortez

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