On Wednesday October 24th, graduate student Ian Combs proposed his Master’s thesis research as part of FAU's Department of Biological Sciences and was approved by his committee (Dr. Joshua Voss, Dr. Nichols Dickens, and Dr. M. Dennis Hanisak). His project focuses on characterizing the impacts of the newly described Scleractinian Tissue Loss Disease on corals in southeast Florida. He has been developing a new protocol to quantify rates of disease progression using a time and cost-effective method for 3D model generation. Ian's research is part of a multi-agency effort to better understand this highly destructive and poorly understood coral disease; please visit our previous blog post here to learn more about our lab's involvement in the disease response plan.
Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is an annual competition held at over 200 universities worldwide where graduate students effectively convey their research to a non-specialist audience in three minutes or less, with only one powerpoint slide for back-up! The Voss Lab students competed in Heat 7 of Florida Atlantic University’s 3MT competition, hosted at FAU's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
Ian was awarded “Runner-Up” for his talk entitled “Eulogy for the St. Lucie Reef” where he discussed his thesis research focused on the recent outbreak of Scleractinian Tissue Loss Disease on St. Lucie Reef as well as his research approaches including coral colony fate-tracking and gene expression studies to evaluate disease progression and corals’ physiological response.
Lexie was awarded “Second Runner-Up” for her talk entitled “Six Degrees of SepaREEFtion: Using molecular tools to assess coral genetic connectivity in Cuba and the Tropical Western Atlantic” where she discussed her dissertation research focused on evaluating the population structure and genetic connectivity of the coral, Montastraea cavernosa.
Ian and Lexie won scholarship awards to help support their research efforts and will be joining fellow HBOI graduate students: Heat 7 winner Kirstie Tandberg and People’s Choice winner René Miller-Xavier in advancing to the FAU 3MT Championship held at the Boca campus on Friday, November 2, 2018. Congratulations to Ian and Lexie and to all the other graduate students who participated in the 2018 3MT competition at FAU!
To see a video recording of the heat, please visit the FAU Graduate College Facebook page.
Over ten days Ph.D. student Alexis Sturm participated in the Student Workshop on International Marine and Coastal Management (SWIMM) in northern-central Cuba supported by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. During the SWIMM workshop she worked with a group of Cuban, Mexican, and American students to develop an Environmental Report Card that evaluates the effects of Hurricane Irma on various socio-ecological systems within Cuba’s Caguanes National Park. Teams of graduate students from these three countries worked with various stakeholders including fishermen, park managers, farmers, and community leaders to develop a series of indicators that evaluate the health of the ecological, geophysical, and socioeconomic systems within the park and surrounding areas. These students also got to have some fun too! They stayed with a community of farmers in Cuba’s first agro-tourism venture, La Picadora, and then traveled to a beach resort in Cayo Santa María to obtain a well-rounded view of how coastal tourism is developing in Cuba. The students then returned to Havana to present their findings at the MarCuba conference. The next year’s SWIMM workshop will be held in Mérida, Mexico. Anybody who is interested or has questions about the application process, please contact Lexie at email@example.com.
FAU Harbor Branch was well-represented at the MarCuba 2018 conference held from October 15-October 19 in Havana, Cuba. Harbor Branch researchers including John Reed and Dr. Joshua Voss, Dr. Shirley Pomponi, Dr. Cris Diaz, Dr. Dennis Hanisak, and graduate student Alexis Sturm, as well as Cuban collaborators including Linnet Busutil, Dorka Cobián, Dr. Beatriz Martínez-Daranas, and Dr. Patricia González all presented their work stemming from the 2017 CIOERT-supported research cruise to study Cuba’s mesophotic coral reefs. The researchers presented on mesophotic reef geomorphology, coral population connectivity, and fish, coral, sponge, and macroalgal biodiversity and community structure. The collaborators also spent time planning for a follow-up research cruise in 2019. A special thanks to all those who coordinated such a successful, international conference! For more information on the USA-Cuba Research Partnership to study Cuba’s mesophotic coral reefs and to see our MarCuba abstracts, please visit this link.
Postdoc Dr. Michael Studivan and PI Dr. Joshua Voss recently published a new paper in Coral Reefs regarding genetic connectivity of mesophotic coral ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).
Studivan MS, Voss JD (2018) Population connectivity among shallow and mesophotic Montastraea cavernosa corals in the Gulf of Mexico identifies potential for refugia. Coral Reefs https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-018-1733-7
This study was funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), and is a product of a collaborative effort led by the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) headquartered at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. CIOERT seeks to increase our understanding of mesophotic connectivity and ecology through enhanced habitat characterization and development of exploration technologies. Our collaborators and partners include Flower Garden Banks and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries, UNCW Undersea Vehicle Program, Smithsonian Marine Station and Carrie Bow Cay Field Station, and UM Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS).
We examined the genetic structure of shallow and mesophotic populations of Montastraea cavernosa in Belize, the northwest GOM including Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, and the southwest GOM including Pulley Ridge and Dry Tortugas. This study identifies three main conclusions: 1) the northwest GOM is panmictic, including mesophotic sites, 2) Pulley Ridge appears isolated from the rest of the sites examined, and 3) the mesophotic population in Belize, while isolated from the nearby (~10 m) shallow population, is highly similar to the shallow Dry Tortugas population ~1,000 km away. The results from this Gulf-wide comparison of genetic connectivity suggest that mesophotic populations in subregions of the GOM may be acting as refugia with oceanographic conditions likely influencing larval dispersal across a regional scale.
The fourth technical diving mission to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) was a success! The mission was led by PI Dr. Joshua Voss and postdoc Dr. Michael Studivan, with graduate students Alexis Sturm, Ryan Eckert, Ian Combs, and Cameron Luck from FAU Harbor Branch, Jeff Beal from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Jake Emmert from Moody Gardens Aquarium participating in the research dives. During the five days at sea, the team completed the final sampling of the mesophotic transplant experiment that was initially started in October 2015, where full colonies of Montastraea cavernosa were transplanted from mesophotic (45 m) to shallow (20 m) depths. These manipulated colonies, with additional control colonies, were fate-tracked and sampled at zero, six, twelve, and thirty six months to assess variation in gene expression, zooxanthellae and chlorophyll, skeletal morphology, and survivorship as part of Michael's dissertation research.
Just prior to the twelve month sampling cruise in September 2016, a bleaching event began at the Flower Garden Banks, where the transplants and shallow controls were observed to be severely bleached (more about that cruise here). While transplants appeared to be more visually susceptible to bleaching stress than their shallow counterparts, transcriptomic patterns and zooxanthellae/chlorophyll concentrations suggested similar stress responses in both depth treatments. This most recent cruise was the first time the experimental colonies had been revisited, and the Voss Lab was pleasantly surprised to see that none of the transplants or shallow controls appeared to have died due to the bleaching event. Several of the transplants had been dislodged from the bottom (possibly due to Hurricane Harvey in 2017), resulting in toppling and slow colony mortality. Despite this disappointing fate for some transplants, the data from this experiment will allow for better understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind rapid adaptation and/or acclimation to new environments.
In addition to the transplant experiment objectives, the team sampled additional benthic taxa including corals (Orbicella faveolata, Stephanocoenia intersepta) and a sponge (Xestospongia muta) for enhanced population genetics research in the northwest Gulf of Mexico (NWGOM) as part of a new NOAA-funded research collaboration with Dr. Santiago Herrera at Lehigh University. These species will aid in ongoing assessments of population structure of mesophotic environments across the NWGOM and wider Tropical Western Atlantic, and will provide valuable genetic data to the current proposal to expand the FGBNMS boundaries to include additional mesophotic banks in the NWGOM. While conducting sampling dives both within the sanctuary and outside the existing FGBNMS boundaries at Bright and McGrail Banks, the divers were fortunate to observe several manta rays, friendly groupers, and X. muta spawning.
The team would like to sincerely thank the new crew of the R/V Manta for a productive and safe week offshore, and FGBNMS staff for providing research permits for both projects. This research is supported by NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) headquartered at FAU Harbor Branch.
To see more photos from the research cruise, see our Flickr album here. To see a few short videos from the cruise, including scooter rides up the bank margins at West and East FGB, see our Youtube playlist here.
Members of the Voss Lab and Jeff Beal from FWC, with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, have been working to characterize the impacts of a previously undescribed coral disease, deemed “tissue loss disease,” which is affecting scleractinian corals throughout southeast Florida. Diseased corals located in the St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, which includes the Voss Lab's long-term monitoring project at St. Lucie Reef (SLR), are being fate-tracked in order to determine the rate of disease progression. In addition, targeted transect surveys throughout southeast Florida will provide information on size-class distribution of coral communities where the disease outbreak has occurred. These data will also contribute to Master's student Ian Combs' thesis research.
This work builds on previous projects funded by Florida Sea Grant such as Danielle Dodge’s Master’s thesis, which quantified differential gene expression of SLR coral communities in response to fresh water discharges from the St. Lucie Estuary. Similarly, the Voss Lab contributed to a report published by Brian Walker (2018), and funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, identifying the state of local coral reefs following Hurricane Irma.
A delegation from FAU Harbor Branch including Drs. Joshua Voss, M. Cristina Diaz, Michael Studivan, and recent hire Dr. Andia Chaves-Fonnegra recently attended the Functional Roles of Mesophotic Coral Reefs in the Anthropocene Gordon Research Conference (GRC) held June 17-22 at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Found at depths of 30–150 m in tropical and subtropical oceans, mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) are “middle light” ecosystems that harbor extensive and diverse biological communities, including many important commercial fish species. However, globally mesophotic reefs are relatively understudied compared to shallow coral reefs, and only recently has the ecological importance of MCEs become a research priority.
At the inaugural mesophotic coral reefs GRC, Dr. Voss was one of three invited speaker in the Genetic Connectivity Among Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems session and presented NOAA CIOERT funded research regarding mesophotic coral connectivity in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, Belize, and Cuba. Drs. Diaz, Chaves-Fonnegra, and Studivan presented posters regarding mesophotic sponges, disease dynamics, and coral gene expression, respectively. Dr. Studivan, in presenting a portion of his dissertation research, was honored with the “Best Graduate Student Poster” award.
Gordon Research Conferences are prestigious international scientific conferences that promote the presentation and discussion of new, unpublished research at the frontiers of science. By limiting conference attendance, GRCs encourage the free exchange of ideas while fostering communication and collaboration among both prominent and developing researchers in targeted scientific fields.
Harbor Branch researchers have recently published three studies focused on coral reef ecology, connectivity, and conservation in the Northwest Gulf of Mexico (NWGOM). Two sister manuscripts from the laboratories of Dr. Joshua Voss and Dr. Laurent Chérubin, led by recent FAU graduate Dr. Michael Studivan and former HBOI postdoc Dr. Lysel Garavelli, examined the connectivity of mesophotic coral ecosystems with complementary molecular biology and oceanographic modeling approaches to inform a proposed expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Additionally, FAU master’s program graduate Jennifer Polinski and Dr. Voss have characterized the corals’ algal symbiont communities and demonstrated a potentially novel mechanism for photoadaptation in mesophotic corals of the NWGOM. The three manuscripts are products of the NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) headquartered at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
Studivan MS, Voss JD (2018) Assessment of mesophotic coral ecosystem connectivity for proposed expansion of a marine sanctuary in the northwest Gulf of Mexico: population genetics. Frontiers in Marine Science 5:152 doi:10.3389/fmars.2018.00152
Garavelli L, Studivan MS, Voss JD, Kuba A, Figueiredo J, Chérubin L (2018) Assessment of mesophotic coral ecosystem connectivity for proposed expansion of a marine sanctuary in the northwest Gulf of Mexico: larval dynamics. Frontiers in Marine Science 5:174 doi:10.3389/fmars.2018.00174
Polinski JM, Voss JD (2018) Evidence of photoacclimatization at mesophotic depths in the coral-Symbiodinium symbiosis at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and McGrail Bank. Coral Reefs doi:10.1007/s00338-018-1701-2
FGBNMS Superintendent G.P. Schmahl recently commented “FGBNMS is undergoing a process to consider a significant expansion to include additional reefs and banks in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Josh immediately recognized the importance of this effort and tailored aspects of his research to provide essential and timely scientific data to inform this process. This is most clearly exemplified by recent publications from his team (e.g. Studivan and Voss 2018, Garaveli et al. 2018). Such direct reference to a management consideration in a scientific article is significant…. We look forward to a continuing collaboration with Dr. Voss’s team and appreciate the support of CIOERT, HBOI, and Florida Atlantic University.”
Over the past week Ph.D. student Alexis Sturm participated in the Methods in Ecological Genomic Analysis workshop led by Dr. Misha Matz (UT-Austin) and hosted by Mote's Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration in Summerland Key, Florida. The workshop focused on the generation of population genomic data using a 2bRAD pipeline and ANGSD probabilistic data analysis of nucleotide variation. Between lectures, lab work, and coding sessions Lexie was able to hear about the varied research backgrounds of the other workshop attendees and she even caught a few sunsets from the Mote kayaks! Lexie is excited to incorporate the lab and bioinformatics techniques she has learned from the workshop into her graduate research which focuses on mesophotic coral ecology and population connectivity of coral communities in Cuba.
Voss lab Master’s student Ryan Eckert was recently awarded a $5,000 research grant from the PADI Foundation for his research investigating population structure of the scleractinian coral species Montastraea cavernosa along a depth gradient on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef in Belize. The PADI Foundation encourages and supports research and education related to aquatic environments, funding and assisting research and projects which enrich our understanding of aquatic environments and encourage sensitivity to and protection of ecosystems. Eckert’s was one of 81 funded proposals in 2018 from a pool of over 400. Congratulations Ryan!