Graduate Student Spotlight

Coral Community Control: FSU Students Study Controls on Benthic Communities on Coral Reefs in Bonaire, Netherlands

Joshua Manning and Ethan Cissell are second year PhD students under the advisement of Dr. Sophie McCoy in the Department of Biological Sciences at FSU. Though their interests differ, the same question drives their dissertation research: what are the processes structuring benthic coral reef communities? They hope to answer this question on the fringing coral reefs of Bonaire. Their work involves a significant amount of natural history observation, possible only through immersion into their study system. As AAUS scientific divers within the FSU Academic Diving Program, they spend hundreds of hours underwater conducting research every year. In addition to furthering understanding of processes structuring coral reef communities, they will partner with the Bonaire’s national park service (STINAPA) to help improve management of Bonaire’s already well-managed coral reefs and communicate their findings with the general public.

Joshua Manning: Over the coming years, Joshua will pair observations of parrotfish behavior with data on benthic communities across multiple fringing reefs in Bonaire to provide a better understanding of the effects of parrotfish behavior on benthic community structure. Parrotfishes are important members of coral communities, controlling algal abundances and indirectly enhancing coral recruitment. Additionally, some species play important roles as bioeroders on coral reefs, removing calcium carbonate from the reef and reducing it to sediment. This process is of immense interest in light of the effects of global climate change on rates of coral reef accretion. Interactions among individual parrotfish, particularly conspecifics, could influence spatial patterns in benthic community composition and bioerosion on coral reefs in ways that we have not fully elucidated. Joshua’s research could have important conservation and management implications. 

Ethan Cissell: For his dissertation, Ethan will focus on the ecology of cyanobacteria on coral reefs. Specifically, Ethan seeks to understand the factors that structure the abundance and distribution of benthic cyanobacterial mats on coral reefs. The ongoing proliferation of benthic cyanobacterial mats on coral reef ecosystems worldwide poses a new threat for reef ecosystem function. Owing to their historically inconspicuous cover on coral reefs (i.e. <1% cover), cyanobacterial mats are relatively understudied members of the benthic community. A better understanding of these cyanobacterial mats is necessary to inform efforts to mitigate their expansion. By pairing both observational and experimental approaches, Ethan hopes to provide a holistic understanding of benthic cyanobacterial mat bloom dynamics.

Last Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2019 at 4:54 PM