a common strategy that is taxonomically widespread but does not conform to guidelines set by oft-studied terrestrial vertebrates. For example, colonies are groups of clones that can also fragment; these traits obscure the otherwise intuitive boundaries of the fundamental unit of ecology, the individual.
My research program focuses on modular coral growth and colony allometries.
Corals are ecologically and economically important colonies, and their growth is used to assess ecological or anthropogenic effects. Corals grow by duplicating modules and by accreting skeleton, but descriptions of coral growth are effectively limited to accretion.
Colonial organisms challenge ecological rules defined by traditional organisms, that in fact, do not represent most of the diversity of life. For example, allometries provide a powerful tool to define rules that govern physiological relationships in ecology. If allometric rules also constrain realtionships for colonies, then the underlying mechanisms should also apply to these life forms. If allometric rules do not apply to colonies, then there are limits to these rules.
New modules, or polyps, can be identified using time-lapse photography. Each polyp has a unique orientation and shape. After 16 days, there are 7 new polyps in this part of the coral. I've outlined new polyps in red and polyps that are in both time points in black.
Accretion limits modular growth within the interior, but not the margins, of the colony. Instead, modular growth on the margins of a colony is affected by food supply. Therefore, resource-limited corals are less apt to compete for space by overgrowing their neighbors.
Budding increases surface area and calcification increases volume. In this cross-sectioned colony, I’ve used red to highlight new polyps in the interior and on the margins of a colony, and green to highlight calcification of existing and new polyps.
Metabolism scales indistinguishably for aggregates, colonies, and solitary organisms. Aggregates, and often colonies, do not create an internally bounded space. Therefore, universal patterns in metabolic scaling are not a function of this internal space.
To inspire students, I offer the same experiences that have inspired my career: field trips and novel research. Field trips captivate student attention. Novel research opportunities galvanize academic ownership, cultivate critical inquiry, and reinforce lessons with material from lecture and other courses.
Without proper training, many students fail to communicate their knowledge or ideas, thus limiting their performance in and after school. In my classes, students practice written and oral communication skills. In addition to instruction, guided peer review greatly benefits a student’s ability to communicate.
Many experiential learning opportunities are costly, thus limiting attendance to affluent demographics. To be inclusive by offering accessible experiential education, I develop low cost and local opportunities.
Example of field trips and novel research: On a 5-day trip down the Atlantic coast of Florida, students snorkel and collect data at seven different sites, including rock, mollusk, and coral reefs. On this trip, students determined if habitat complexity influenced fish diversity. While in the field, students kept a notebook of observations and hypotheses. After the trip, students used one of their observations to write a proposal for Sigma Xi. Students learned how to synthesize published data to motivate their proposal.
I taught Marine Ecology as a module in Marine Biology. I was the instructor of this course for 3 semesters.
Example of communication practice and peer review: when I teach general ecology, students present independent projects to the class before submitting their written reports. The presentation is an opportunity for students to improve their proposals by incorporating constructive feedback from their peers and me. To prepare for these presentations, I show students presentations that were recorded at scientific conferences. The students evaluate these presentations using the same rubric that is used to assess their presentations.
For General Ecology, I was a guest lecturer and the lead teaching assistant for 4 semesters.
Example of novel research and reinforced material: Students set up an experiment to determine if snail density influences the snail’s scope for growth. If organisms are smaller at higher densities because competition for resources limits growth, then the scope for growth should decline with density. Scope for growth is the difference between the cost of maintenance (i.e., standard metabolic rate) and the amount of energy assimilated by ingesting food. Students quantify metabolic rate using a simple homemade manometer. When the snails respire in a chamber, a CO2 scrubber absorbs the respired CO2, so the volume of gas in the chamber declines according to O2 consumption. Students record this change in volume using a simple homemade manometer. This experiment integrated concepts from ecology, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, and physics.
I taught Marine Physiology as a module in Marine Biology. I was the instructor of this course for 3 semesters.
I have mentored 11 students: 3 assisted me in the field, 3 assisted with data synthesis, 3 are co-authors on prepared manuscripts, and 4 have since started their own graduate training.