News & Events
Scaling up: examining microbial ecology to understand coral reef ecosystems
Speaker(s): Dr Lindsey Kane Deignan, Research Fellow, SCELSE
When: 11 October 2017 (2:00 - 3:00pm)
Where: SBS CR3 (Level 1)
Type: Seminars

Abstract

Coral reefs are critically important ecosystems, both ecologically and economically, yet they are experiencing drastic declines worldwide. Research efforts are underway to understand how these ecosystems respond to anthropogenic stress and what makes some reef organisms more resilient to that stress. More recently, scientists are examining the role of microbial symbionts of the dominant reef taxa in structuring reef ecosystems. In the Caribbean, marine sponges can frequently be the dominant benthic organisms on reefs, host abundant and diverse microbial communities, and may play a critical role in nutrient cycling, yet sponges have been significantly less studied than corals. In the Pacific, corals are the dominant reef-forming organisms, and while they have been well studied, the role of their microbial communities and the response of those communities to anthropogenic stressors is only starting to be examined. However, the associated microbial communities of the dominant reef taxa are proving to be a critical link in our understanding of the functioning of coral reef ecosystems and will likely play an increased role in our conservation efforts to make coral reefs more resilient to climate change.

Biography

Dr Deignan is a Research Fellow examining microbial communities on coral reefs around Singapore. Prior to working at SCELSE, she obtained a doctorate in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her research focused on the ecology of marine sponge communities on Caribbean reefs, specifically their fine-scale spatial and genetic distribution. Additionally, she studied the effect of disease on the microbial communities of sponges. At SCELSE, Dr Deignan is examining the response of the coral holobiont to anthropogenic stressors, particularly increased sedimentation and interaction with algae. In addition to characterising shifting microbial community structure, she will be comparing gene expression profiles of coral microbiomes under different stress treatments to examine the functional response of the corals to biotic and abiotic stressors. Her research will focus on corals from reefs surrounding Singapore, with the goal of understanding how their microbial ecology is influencing their survival and distribution.