My research focuses on understanding the effects of anthropogenic change on aquatic ecosystems. I am interested in how stressors, such as warming and pollution, affect the intricate interactions in cryptic invertebrate and microbial communities, and what this means for the ecosystem services that they provide.
Areas of particular interest include:
1) Coral reef diversity and function: Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse, complex, and economically valuable ecosystems on earth; tentatively valued at $1 trillion USD annually. These systems are also in global decline and with their loss, we are also losing the goods and services reefs provide. While efforts are being made to establish conservation priorities for halting their decline, we are still fundamentally limited by our inadequate knowledge of what is being lost because the baseline of what exists on coral reefs is incomplete. I use a range of standardised techniques (e.g. Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) to answer questions, such as: how does coral reef cryptic diversity compare to that of well-studied groups such as corals and fish, what are the functional roles of these communities, and can we use microbes as early warning systems to determine ecosystem collapse on coral reefs?
2) Multiple stressors in aquatic ecosystems: Aquatic environments are facing a multitude of stressors, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that stressor impacts may be strongly interdependent on each other. However, we currently know little about the impact of multiple stressors on complex communities in freshwater and marine systems, or about the importance of community structure and environmental history in resisting environmental stress. The traditional focus on single stressors, and single key stone species, unsurprisingly misses key information on the interactive effects of stressors and species, which can often be counterintuitive. I work across scales (e.g. micro-scale robot experiments, large-scale mesocosm experiments, and natural field gradients) to understand the impact of multiple stressors on complex communities.
At Imperial College London, we have one of the largest freshwater mesocosm facilities in the world (Silwood Mesocosm Facility; SMF). The SMF provides us with the realism that we miss in laboratory experiments and the control that field sites cannot provide. In collaboration with multiple staff at Imperial, we run large-scale warming and chemical experiments to investigate their impact on freshwater communities.
3) Microbial interactions in a changing world: The environment is teeming with taxonomically and functionally diverse micro-organisms that are crucial for sustaining the health of higher organisms, and more generally life on our planet; they are also of great biogeochemical significance, they can accelerate the “self-cleaning” of toxins and chemical pollution, and they are the first responders to environmental change. They can also cause disease in humans and wildlife. I am interested in understanding how we are altering these communities and if we can harness them to better predict our impact on the environment.
Viruses particularly have been mostly ignored in community ecology and ecosystem modelling because their ecology has remained enigmatic until the recent advent of new molecular approaches. Viruses that “prey” on bacteria (bacteriophage) are the most abundant biological entities on the planet. They are responsible for 10-50% of bacterial mortality in marine systems, altering bacterial community structure and redirecting nutrients and energy away from the higher trophic levels and back into the microbial food web. However, despite the growing recognition that viruses play key roles in shaping ecosystems, their role in freshwaters, and the impact environmental change has on viral interactions with other organisms remains poorly understood. This unexplored area in ecology has major implications for predicting how food-webs will be altered in the future and is arguably one of our biggest blind-spots in advancing a truly holistic approach to ecosystem biology. As such, this is a growing area of research in my lab.
et al., 2020, Key Questions for Next-Generation Biomonitoring, Frontiers in Environmental Science, Vol:7
et al., 2018, Spatial Organization of the Gastrointestinal Microbiota in Urban Canada Geese, Scientific Reports, Vol:8
et al., 2018, Elevated success of multispecies bacterial invasions impacts community composition during ecological succession, Ecology Letters, Vol:21, ISSN:1461-023X, Pages:516-524
et al., 2017, Meta-mass shift chemical profiling of metabolomes from coral reefs, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol:114, ISSN:0027-8424, Pages:11685-11690