Current Graduate Students

Graduate students are the life blood of the marine lab, coming from the departments of Biological Science and Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences to work with resident faculty. Their enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, and creativity are contagious to everyone with whom they interact on the laboratory campus, including the staff, each other, and the faculty.

Biological Science

Rachael Best, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Don Levitan)
I am broadly interested in the ecology of marine benthic invertebrates and the effect of environmental stressors on their population dynamics. I am particularly interested in how high macroalgal cover or sedimentation affect gorgonian octocorals in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Despite their global distribution, octocorals are largely understudied. Thus, I am evaluating the mechanisms driving observed patterns in gorgonian distribution, abundance, and population dynamics on limestone reefs and how increasing stressors alter these populations.

Randi Bowman, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke)
I am broadly interested in studying how biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning in coral reef ecosystems. I use a combination of observational, field, and lab studies to identify and predict spatial and temporal shifts in coral functional diversity in response to anthropogenic stressors. My objective is to determine which aspects of functional diversity are key to maintaining high-level ecosystem functioning in the face of regularly occurring disturbances. My goal is to use my research to inform coral reef conservation and management strategies.

Ethan Cissell, Ph.D. Candidate (Advisor Dr. Sophie McCoy)
My research explores tripartite symbioses between endolithic bacteria, viruses that parasitize them, and their coralline algae hosts, emphasizing how climate change affects their interactions. I am also interested in how viral top-down control affects endolithic community composition and abundance. My focus at the community level will reveal the effects of nutrient exchange on host ecology and bioerosion. I will use empirically-based models to run cost-benefit analyses of viral burden on bacterial population dynamics and to explore the consequences of changing ocean chemistry on bacteria-host-virus interactions.

Abbey Engleman, Ph.D. Candidate (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke)
My research interests are rooted in understanding coral reef ecology, resilience, and response to changes in environmental parameters. I am particularly intrigued by how anthropogenic influences- such as climate change, coastal development, artificial reef development, and recreation and tourism uses- impact coral’s response rate and reproductive success. I aim to produce research that can be applied to future conservation and management of coral reef ecosystems.

Blake Hamilton, MSc. student (Advisor Dr. Dean Grubbs)
My research focuses on elasmobranchs and their interactions with habitat and other species. My experience conducting fishery-independent surveys of salmonid fishes in the Pacific Northwest and coastal species from Cape Hatteras to Martha’s Vineyard informs these interests. My plan is to investigate shark seasonal and spatial patterns of habitat use and trophic interactions in the Big Bend using a combination of acoustic telemetry and isotope analysis. This work contributes to a long-term fishery-independent study of this region.


Alex Hooks, Ph.D. Candidate (Advisor Dr. Scott Burgess)
My interest in the field of marine evolutionary ecology combines molecular genetics with experimental ecology. I have previous experience in this area from studying the hybridization of imperiled species as an undergraduate and by conducting manipulative experiments of predator-prey interactions for my Masters. For my dissertation, I am using these approaches to investigate polyandry in the Florida crown conch. The intent is threefold: to understand the degree of polyandry in field populations, to examine its effect on sibling interactions, and to understand the potential for the level of polyandry to track positively with intensity of parent-offspring conflicts.

Joseph Horacek, Ph.D. student (Dr. Jeroen Ingels)
I am primarily interested in the ecology of marine meiofauna, particularly metazoan meiofauna. My research at FSU primarily deals with investigating genetic and morphological connectivity between populations of meiofaunal nematodes. I am also interested in molecular ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation biology. Meiofauna are an important yet often under-studied component of the benthic environment. I hope my research will help elucidate the role of meiofauna in the marine ecosystems.

Johanna Imhoff, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Dean Grubbs)
I am broadly interested in the ecology of marine fishes, mainly the sharks and rays. I am particularly interested in foraging and movement ecology of fishes, and the use of innovative techniques or technologies for studying them. My current research focuses on the trophic ecology of six species of sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico, ranging from the continental shelf edge to the lower continental slope. I am also evaluating methylmercury contamination in these sharks relative to their trophic ecology, habitat, and proximity to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Josh Manning, Ph.D. Candidate (Dr. Sophie McCoy)
I am broadly interested in algal ecology, particularly the ecology of crustose coralline algae (CCA) on coral reefs. I am also interested in how anthropogenic change is altering coral reef communities, and how human stresses are interacting with natural processes such as herbivory and competition. My MSc thesis research focused on the effects of ocean acidification on CCA common to the coral reefs of Mo'orea, French Polynesia, and I hope to build upon this research working with Dr. McCoy.

Brian Moe, Ph.D Student (Advisors Dr. Chip Cotton and Dr. Joseph Travis)
My research interests are rooted in the ecology, life history, and population dynamics of elasmobranchs. My past research  focused on using biphasic life‐history trade‐offs to better model elasmobranch lifetime growth and more accurately estimate mortality rates and rebound potentials (still of great interest), whereas my current research describes the growth and life history patterns of deepwater sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, many of which are still poorly understood, and investigates the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to age sharks.

Kevin Olsen, Ph.D. Candidate (Advisor Dr. Don Levitan)
I am interested in the evolutionary ecology of marine benthic invertebrates, in particular whether biotic and environmental factors act together or in isolation to influence the recruitment of reef-building corals (Olsen et al. 2013-2016; Ross et al. 2013, 2015). For my PhD, I'm studying the potential adaptive value of inbreeding in marine inverts using a common species of seasquirt in the Gulf of Mexico (2020). The goal is to better understand the reproductive dynamics of sessile organisms in the ocean. See pubs in Google Scholar

Cheston Peterson, Ph.D. Candidate (Advisor Dr. Dean Grubbs)

My primary interest is in the ecology of large marine fishes, which informs my current research on the natural history and ecology of coastal sharks in the Florida Big Bend seagrass habitats. Here, I use fishery-independent surveys to document fish assemblages, and stable isotope analysis to describe trophic structure. Additional interests include the trophic and isotopic relationships of commensal diskfishes (Family Echeneidae)., elasmobranch ectoparasites, and their hosts, as well as the effects of highly mobile and migratory species on ecological systems.

Jackson Powell, Ph.D. Candidate (Advisor Dr. Scott Burgess)
I am interested in the evolution of marine organisms that undergo metamorphosis and have multiple life stages. In particular, I aim to investigate how selection across the planktonic larval and benthic adult stages of certain marine invertebrates presents the possibility of constraining adaptive evolution to novel or changing environments.  In doing so, I plan to highlight the importance of considering multiple life stages when attempting to predict how populations will respond to climate-change and anthropogenic effects.

Aaron Ridall, Ph.D. student (Dr. Jeroen Ingels)                          
I am broadly interested in how anthropogenic pollution affects marine environments. In particular, how microplastics change nutrient availability in subtidal sediments. My current research focuses on quantifying the effects of microplastics on marine biogeochemistry, specifically carbon and nitrogen cycling, in the subtidal sediments of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. I also hope to assess the concentration of microplastics in the Gulf of Mexico and around the Florida peninsula to contribute to the on-going need for specific data on the presence of microplastics in the ocean.

Earth Ocean & Atmospheric Science

Adam Alfasso, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke)

My research interests are focused on marine and aquatic ecology, and the response of communities to changing environmental factors.  I am particularly focused on predictive habitat and distribution modelling for marine fishes and coral ecosystems.  My current project is creating a habitat suitability model for mesophotic corals in the Big Bend region.  I aim to produce research that can be applied to the protection and management of at risk marine habitats.

Nika Blank, MSc. student (Dr. Sandra Brooke) 
My research explores the biological diversity of shallow-water invertebrates of the northern Gulf of Mexico, both within the region itself and on a larger spatial scale. I am particularly interested in determining whether they have any  behavioral or physiological adaptations that would help them survive changes to the ecosystem due to climate.  My goal  overall goal is to increase the scientific community's understanding  of this largely unexplored region of the Gulf.

Anthony Sogluizzo, MSc. student (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke)
I am broadly interested in coral reef ecology but more specifically in the interactions between coral host and photosynthetic algal symbiont (zooxanthellae). My project intends to reveal how symbiont communities change in coral tissues based on natural seasonal and latitudinal gradients from the Florida Panhandle to the Florida Keys. Ultimately, I want to show how corals and their symbiont communities might change in response to climate change.

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 29, 2020 at 4:18 PM