My students and I investigate the causes and consequences of biodiversity change in marine and freshwater systems. Our overarching goal is to develop science-based tools for conserving natural resources under global change. To do this, we conduct collaborative research using a range of methods in the lab and field— including behavioural observation, manipulative field experiments, theoretical models, and time series analyses along anthropogenic gradients— to understand how drivers like invasion, climate change, and over-exploitation are altering aquatic food webs. Our products are both fundamental and applied. For example, we seek to advance foraging and population dynamics theory in ways that help practitioners and policy makers manage for future environmental conditions. Our work takes place in close collaboration with university, government, NGO, and citizen scientists throughout the Caribbean, US, and Canada on several themes:
Unprecedented rates of global climate change are now pushing species’ ranges and densities far outside historical variation. How will ecosystems and the resources we derive from them respond? A key challenge for tackling this question is a lack of general principles from which to predict the strength of novel interactions as species encounter one another for the first time within re-assembled food webs. Our research is tackling this issue by investigating the role behavioural and morphological traits play, independent from species identity, in determining the strength of food web interactions. This work will facilitate predictions of ecosystem structure and function under future climate scenarios that account for the important influence of biotic interactions.
Precipitous declines in coral reef and mangrove habitat worldwide threatens the food security, livelihoods and infrastructure of tropical coastal communities. Is it possible to restore the functionality of damaged habitats? What ecological and socioeconomic factors mediate the success of restoration efforts? Our research is tackling these questions through collaborative research in coastal areas of the Caribbean where habitat restoration is occurring amidst a range of other conservation interventions. By applying a range of ecological concepts including resilience and metacommunity theory to field and lab studies of restoration, we are investigating how system properties (e.g., species equivalence, migration rates, habitat heterogeneity) affect ecological processes (e.g., magnitude and stability of diversity and biomass) across space and time, and ultimately understand the context in which restoration interventions are likely to lead to ecological recovery and socioeconomic benefits.
Predicting the effects of invasion on recipient ecosystems is a top challenge for conservation. My research seeks to uncover magnitude and mechanisms of ecological change driven by invasive species in freshwater and marine communities. To address this ongoing problem, I build tools that help managers forecast the consequences of invasion intensification and spread, and decide how to best use resources to prevent and reverse the impacts of invasion. Pertinent questions that my work asks are:
The rapid spread of Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) throughout the Western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico is emerging as one of the most devastating marine invasions in history. Well defended from predation by venomous spines, and limited in what they can eat largely by the size of their mouths, lionfish populations are increasing at a rapid pace and spreading like wild fire throughout the region. My research is uncovering the effects of this invasion on Atlantic marine communities- which are proving to be the rapid depletion of many native fish species, including economically important fisheries species, and ecologically important algae grazers and parasite removers.
How can we harness sufficient human and economic capital to tackle the biggest environmental challenges facing us today, and at relevant temporal and spatial scales? I am interested in understanding the role non-traditional methods and partnerships—such as market development, volunteer engagement, and media communication—play in addressing conservation problems. In particular, my research focuses on the ways a variety of societal sectors can influence the application of ecological research to conservation, in terms of identifying research needs, assisting with research execution, disseminating results, and facilitating uptake into practice.