Current - Operation Wallacea


Name and BioPhoto
Max Bodmer
In the early 1980s populations of the Caribbean coral reef keystone herbivore, Diadema antillarum (the long-spined sea urchin), were decimated by disease. The associated loss of their essential ecosystem functions, coupled with their failure to recover from this catastrophic mass-mortality, is widely believed to be a significant contributing factor to the ubiquitous macroalgal phase-shifts that now plague reefs in the Caribbean. Throughout the course of his PhD, Max is trying to identify the barriers preventing the recovery of D. antillarum in order to provide practical conservation solutions that will help to restore urchin populations. He hopes that his efforts will help to stimulate coral reef recovery throughout the region, which will not only have beneficial ecological consequences, but will also serve to improve the socioeconomic circumstances of the many people that rely on Caribbean reef systems for survival.
Ben Titus
Ben is doing his PhD at The Ohio State University on the comparative phylogeography of multi-level sea anemone symbioses on Caribbean coral reefs. As biodiversity hotspots, coral reefs achieve much of their success and diversity from a network of symbiotic interactions. While this reliance on symbiosis is well recognized, we know very little about how biodiversity evolves in these complex multi-level relationships over time and space. Ben is interested in how variation in host specificity among crustacean symbionts is associated with co-diversification with anemone hosts across the entire Caribbean region. Symbiotic study systems should be especially important for disentangling the extrinsic factors that shape whole communities (i.e. ocean currents, sea level) from intrinsic contributions of organismal biology (i.e. dispersal ability, life history), and thus, shed light on the factors that generate and maintain biodiversity within species and ecosystems. When time permits, Ben pursues field-based research on the ecologically important cleaning interactions between cleaner shrimp and client reef fish.
Jack Laverick
Jack is studying for his PhD at Oxford, working on the corals of the twilight zone. These regions start at 30m and end with the last photosynthetic coral, sometimes as deep as 150m. They are poorly sampled as they lie beyond the reaches of recreational SCUBA and are often too shallow for submersibles. Jack is using tec diving to visit the twilight zone and test the deep reef refugia hypothesis. If a shallow reef is impacted, could a deeper reef act as a natural seed bank? This work considers topics ranging from community ecology to physiology and population dynamics.
Rachel Grey
Rachel is conducting her research at College of Charleston on the genetics and life history of lionfish in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Two species of lionfish invaded this region in the mid 1980s and since then have been rapidly spreading north and south along the coast of North and South America. Lionfish can reduce fish recruitment on the reef by up to eighty percent and are now being found in very high population densities on reefs. Not much is known about their reproductive patterns or population connectivity within this region. Her work entails looking at how density on a reef drives certain aspects of life history as well as how populations in this region are connected.
Grace Young
Grace is doing her PhD at Oxford as a member of its Ocean Research & Conservation Group after earning her BSc in Mechanical & Ocean Engineering at MIT. She's developing underwater imaging tools for studying coral reefs (including stereo-video, high speed photography, and structure-from-motion 3D reconstruction) and the effects of environmental change and human activity on critical marine ecosystems. Her work also involves researching mesophotic reefs using rebreather technology to dive deeper and stay underwater longer than traditional SCUBA diving. A passionate explorer, her broader goal is to help develop technologies and global policies to better understand and more effectively manage our oceans.
Tammy Green
Tammy is doing her PhD at the University of St Andrews, focusing on biogeochemical cycling of sulphur in tropical reef environments. Sulphur compounds have been shown to play important roles in both climate regulation and have been proposed to act as "stress compounds". Whilst corals and coral reefs have been shown to be significant sources of sulphur compounds, little is known about how production and cycling of sulphur will be affected by climate change. During her PhD, Tammy will investigate the link between ecosystem function and sulphur cycling in coral reef environments in response to both natural variability and projected changes in climate (e.g. ocean acidification and global warming).
Hannah Hoskins
The objective of this PhD at Queens University Balfast is to develop techniques for assessing vulnerabilities of large mammals in Cusuco National Park, Honduras so that they are effective and can be applied to other cloud forests throughout the region. Firstly, through modelling deforestation processes. Additionally, by developing the Random Encounter Model (REM) to better estimate large mammal densities using camera traps. As well as understanding local reliance on bushmeat through interviews with residents of the buffer zones. Finally by assessing the impact of climate change on these species. This research will involve collecting data from throughout Cusuco.
Sean R. Tracy
Sean is a PhD student at George Mason University with field support from Operation Wallacea. He is a professional science teacher with an interest in how environmental education programs influence student attitudes towards the environment. Sean’s research aims to determine differences in attitude and value systems between different nationalities and genders. It will also investigate how group dynamics and the qualities of group leaders impact student experiences. Sean has taught biology, environmental science, earth science, astronomy, and physics and hopes that this research will aid in the development of more impactful curricula in both traditional and non-traditional classroom settings.
Timothy J. Colston
Tim is a herpetologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Mississippi. Tim’s main interests are in biogeography, community assembly patterns in snakes and evolution and systematics of venomous reptiles. Tim’s Ph.D. focuses on understanding the historic processes that shape and dictate the assembly of communities, as well as how the ecology of co-existing members affects species’ distribution. Tim is comparing assembly processes in several snake communities around the globe, and investigating how snakes’ gut bacteria have influenced snake evolution. Tim is using the snake community in Calakmul as one of his focal communities for his Ph.D. research.
Rob Gandola
Recent reports suggest that populations of wild crocodiles in Madagascar are in serious decline with human-crocodile-conflict and habitat loss identified as the primary factors. This PhD will undertake a multidisciplinary approach, including micro-satellite and stable isotope analysis, to assess the population and genetic structure of crocodile populations within Madagascar and their ecology. Tissue samples from existing populations will also be supplemented with archival material to determine changes in genetic structure over time. Focused research on the crocodile population in the Mahamavo wetlands will provide a case study whereby genetic structure analysis, complimented with an existing multi-year survey dataset, can be used to determine how crocodile populations in Madagascar may respond to increasing anthropogenic pressures.
Rob Gandola 1
Solohery Rasamison
Solohery is based at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, where he is studying technologies for monitoring essential biodiversity variables with a case study of forest birds in Madagascar. The objective of this PhD is to develop and apply new methods for efficient monitoring of forest dependent passerine birds in Madagascar over varying temporal geographic and taxonomic scales. Several complementary approaches will be used including satellite remote sensing and distribution models, demographic modelling, acoustic methods and population genomics. Mariarano forest will be sampled intensively, in addition to some 20 other forest sites across Madagascar, and tissues will be collected from museum specimens.
Paul O’Callaghan
Paul is doing his PhD at University College Dublin with financial and field support from the Operation Wallacea Honduras forest programme. His thesis is aimed at developing a biological water quality index for use in Honduras. The cloud forest National Parks in Honduras were designated primarily as a way of protecting of water catchments yet without a biological water quality index it has not been cost effective for the Honduran authorities to complete regular water quality checks on the rivers flowing out of the cloud forests. Paul did a degree in Applied Ecology at University College Cork and a masters at UCD in Environmental Science.
Emily McGrath
Emily is based at the University of Victoria in New Zealand and is studying the impacts of environmental degradation on the ecologically important Indo-Pacific Xestospangia species. In both biomass and species richness sponges exceed that of sessile invertebrates in tropical ecosystems. As coral cover continues to decline, some sponges are increasing in abundance and may stand to benefit from ocean acidification and increases in sea surface temperature. Some of the most conspicuous and ecologically important sponges on coral reefs fall into the genus Xestospongia, the giant barrel sponge. Xestospongia species may grow up to a meter in diameter and live to be hundreds of years old. Highly efficient particle retention, coupled with the ability to pump large quantities of water relative to their size, means that these sponges have the potential to strongly modify water column characteristics by removing a large portion of available food. Despite their ecological importance there is a notable lack of basic biological and ecological data on these sponges in the Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, these sponges are subject to habitat degradation due to anthropogenic activity, and changes in sponge populations may have major effects on the already vulnerable coral reefs in the Wakatobi Marine National Park. My research aims to quantify the effects of habitat degradation in this are on Xestospongia species within various parameters including growth, metabolism, predation, and reproduction.
Andrew Snyder
Andrew is a PhD student at the University of Mississippi where his research focuses on the evolution, phylogeography, and population genetics of reptiles and amphibians throughout the Guiana Shield. He is examining patterns of evolution at various scales, from population-level genetics within Operation Wallacea's site in Guyana to much broader comparative phylogeography of multiple reptiles and amphibians with overlapping ranges. In doing so, he is evaluating the geographic distribution of genealogical lineages of a variety of species to examine how historical processes such as changing geological conditions or climate has influenced the present day distribution of species. This research is valuable for uncovering cryptic species groups, recognizing areas that are genetic "hotspots", and for understanding which factors have been responsible for generating the remarkable species diversity found in the Neotropics.
Darren O'Connell
Darren is studying comparative patterns of divergence in an ecological guild of small passerine birds and the role of competition as a driver of speciation. He is based at Trinity College Dublin. The processes involved in speciation remain highly controversial areas of evolutionary research. Particularly controversial is whether competition plays a major role in speciation. For his PhD Darren is researching the fundamental evolutionary mechanisms that underlie speciation. In particular, he is interested in the role that competition within ecological guilds has in driving and maintaining divergence in populations. Darren is focusing on a guild of small passerine birds on the islands to the south-east of mainland Sulawesi, in the heart of the Wallacea region. The species in this guild (white-eyes, sunbirds and flowerpeckers) have similar ecological requirements. Different members of the study guild are found on different islands, changing the competitive dynamic between these species, potentially driving the speciation process. In order to build a complete picture of changes within the study guild, island populations will be investigated for divergence from mainland populations in; 1) genetics, 2) morphology, 3) song and 4) behaviour and feeding ecology. Using behavioural and ecological data will determine the role that inter- and intra-specific competition have played in this divergence and identify any other selection pressures involved. This study will provide important insights into guild dynamics and evolutionary mechanisms. These insights will allow ecologists to more effectively assess the biodiversity (and therefore conservation status) of geographic and ecological islands, by considering the effect of guild structure.
Warwick Wainwright
Warwick is based at the SRUC (Scotland's Rural College) studying the economic value of farm animal genetic resources. Genetic diversity is a crucial element of resilient and sustainable agricultural systems. However, increasingly intensified, high input systems have resulted in a global tendency towards ‘exotic’ breeds due to improved yields. This has resulted in declining Farm Animal Genetic Resources (FAnGR); the result being genetic and ecological uniformity. Many breeds underpin our cultural traditions, reflect strong regional identities and produce distinctive products (e.g. hides, cheeses and flavoursome meats). These breeds also serve a range of other purposes within developing countries (e.g. transport, insurance policies, trading mechanisms and preservation of cultural heritage). Furthermore, many indigenous breeds are well adapted to harsh landscapes unsuitable for ‘exotic’ breeds to prosper and their preservation represents the most effective method of farming and contributes to wider landscape conservation goals. During his PhD project Warwick hopes to assess the market and non-market benefits attributed to FAnGR conservation. In particular, an assessment of farmers Willingness To Accept (WTA) conservation policies will be assessed to determine supply and demand side factors underpinning FAnGR. The most appropriate policy mechanisms attributed to breed conservation (e.g. Payments for Ecosystem Services) will be identified, alongside mechanisms to improve the targeting of conservation schemes at specific breeds using a range of suitability criteria outlined in Weitzman’s conservation approach.
Laura Michie
Coexistence of Sympatric Fiddler crabs (Uca spp) at their Wallacean Hotspot of Diversity (Part funded by Operation Wallacea, PhD at Portsmouth University supervised by Dr Simon Cragg and co-supervised by Dr Richard Barnes, University of Cambridge). Laura is undertaking a PhD on the remarkable levels of sympatry displayed by intertidal fiddler crabs on a mudflat at Ambeua on Pulau Kaledupa in the Taman Nasional Wakatobi, Sulawesi Tenggara, Indonesia. There, within an area of only some 10 x 25 m at the interface between a non-calcareous mudflat and the mangrove fringe, nine species of fiddler crabs coexist, many more than at any other known site anywhere in the world. Throughout the tropical and warm-temperate zones, fiddler crabs are the dominant ecosystem engineers in higher level intertidal marine mudflats, and they are the most important link in the food-chain between the photosynthesisers on and in the sediment and the vertebrate top predators (birds, reptiles and mammals and, in Indonesia, frogs). Laura’s PhD aims not only to explain how this remarkable level of sympatry is achieved, but also, by extension, to contribute to general ecological understanding of how different ecologically-equivalent species manage to coexist in nature at biodiversity hotspots.
Joe Marlow
My PhD is based at the University of Victoria (New Zealand) and my thesis focuses on Indo-Pacific bioeroding sponges and their functioning on degraded reefs. Bioeroding sponges are a functional group of sponges that actively erode reef substrate in order to create a sheltered habitat within the reef framework. Despite their potent excavating capabilities, they exist in a harmonious relationship with hard corals on healthy reefs and are functionally important; increasing reef diversity by creating microhabitats and providing an important source of sediments. However research from other coral regions has shown they are resilient to many anthropogenic disturbances and their high abundances on degraded reefs has led to a state of net-erosion on these impacted reefs. My research in the Wakatobi is identifying the locally dominant bio-eroding sponge species and identifying the factors that are influencing their distribution and erosion rates. I am also interested in their resilience to common Indo-Pacific reef stressors such as heightened sedimentation and turbidity which are the unfortunate by-product of poor land management. The overall aim of my thesis is to better understand whether these sponges might come to dominate degraded Indo-Pacific reefs in the future as they have done in other parts of the globe.
Harison Andriambelo
Harison is based at the University of Antananarivo (Madagascar) and his thesis is entitled "Landscape ecology of tropical forest trees in Madagascar". In the context of extensive land cover change and fragmentation as well as local extinctions of frugivores, it is important to understand how tree species are responding, in particular whether seed dispersal and recruitment can still occur for certain species in fragmented landscapes. In this project, a network of forest plots have been established in two contrasting forest types: Mariarano tropical dry forest in the west and Ankeniheny-Zahamena tropical moist forest in eastern Madagascar. Satellite remote sensing has been used to characterise land cover change dynamics. Tree species traits have been used to test for sensitivity of species to landscape configuration. Finally drones are being used to test new methods for monitoring forest degradation.
Matt Hallett
Matt is working on a PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida (USA) with a dissertation project focused on the impact of habitat structure and human use variables on the distribution and abundance of large mammals in the Rupununi Region of Guyana. The Rupununi hosts large tracts of undeveloped and intact Neotropical forests, rivers, wetlands, and savannas, and low density human populations interested in preserving traditional livelihoods. Matt works in collaboration with these communities, providing opportunities to contribute to research at every level from determining research questions, to informing study design, and executing data collection. This landscape-scale project seeks to identify how specific variables associated with local human activity (subsistence hunting, selective logging, livestock density) affect large mammals (jaguar, ocelot, tapir, peccary, paca, giant anteater) across this unique habitat mosaic with the goal of deriving data-driven solutions to the issues that are facing the people and the wildlife of this diverse region.
Anmari Alvarez Aleman
Anmari Alvarez Aleman is a PhD student at University of Florida, United States focusing on the endangered Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus) in Cuba. Despite the importance of the manatee population in Cuba within the Antillean region, it has been reported that there has been a decrease in the number of individuals and at the same time an increase in the number of threats that impact the species. Despite this, there are no recognized “management units” identified in Cuba in order to establish an appropriate conservation/management program. The geographic position of Cuba within the region may have led to peculiarities in the genetic structure if they can be compared with other areas. Understanding these parameters could be useful to better describe the phylogenetic relationship among all West Indian manatee populations. Conservation genetics can provide information about the health of the population as well. These tools will allow for more accurate estimations of dispersal, gene flow, size of the populations, reproductive success and reproduction strategies, as well as social organization systems. In addition, understanding the habitat use and movement patterns of manatees will help provide recommendations for conservation actions and management plans of critical protected areas throughout the country.
Anmari Alvarez
Natalie Lubbock
Natalie is studying her PhD at the University of South Wales focusing on conserving Caribbean reef ecosystems, through re-establishing populations of the long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum), in areas where post mortality densities are extremely low. A comprehensive survey of the Caribbean in 2006 found that since 1997 live, scleractinian coral had declined across the region by 80% and we are now seeing a phase shift from stony coral to macroalgal dominance. It is widely believed that this dramatic change is largely due to a loss of herbivorous function, mainly attributed to the devastating decline of D. antillarum in the early 80s. Post mortality densities of D. antillarum at Banco Capiro are unprecedented throughout the Caribbean. Could this be due to some kind of genetic resistance which, is allowing the population to thrive at this location? She is currently focussing on genetically sequencing populations of D. antillarum at Utila and Banco Capiro to discover if there are any differences, genetically, between the geographical populations. Further work will concentrate on the husbandry and translocation of Diadema antillarum in order to hopefully restore the population densities and in turn ecosystem function of this keystone, Caribbean herbivore.
Natalie Lubbock
Adrienne L. Contasti
Adrienne is studying for her PhD at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Human disturbance effects biodiversity when it disrupts species interactions across trophic levels, but how disturbance shapes ecological communities remains unclear, especially in tropics. Adrienne’s PhD is focused on uncovering the effect of human disturbance on the mammal and plant community of Buton Island, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. Study species include the anoa (Bubalus depressicornis/quarlesi), wild pig (Sus celebensis), Buton macaque (Macaca ochreata), rodents (Muridae), and all naturally occurring tree species. The main objectives of her work are (1) to assess mammal local abundance at sites exposed to different levels of past and present human disturbance, (2) to assess seed predation and seedling herbivory along the same gradient of disturbance, and (3) to develop a conservation tool that identifies high priority areas to reduce human presence. Adrienne uses camera traps to estimate mammal local abundance and manipulative exclosures to estimate seed predation and seedling herbivory. The results of her study will provide critical conservation information to Buton Island and increase our understanding of the importance of species interactions in shaping ecological communities. Funding sources include the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the University of British Columbia, and Operation Wallacea.
Adrienne Contasti
Katy Upton
Katy is studying amphibian diversity in Amazonian flooded forests of Peru for a PhD at DICE, University of Kent. The flooded forests of Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve contains over 80 species of amphibians, with potentially many more undiscovered. This PhD has focused on the effects of disturbance, seasonal flooding and survey effort on amphibian diversity. Seasonal flooding has a significant impact on amphibian diversity, altering their breeding habits, and even excluding certain species. Flooding also enables the growth of a unique amphibian habitat, the floating meadows, which are utilized by a separate amphibian assemblage to that found in the surrounding terrestrial forest. Pacaya-Samiria potentially offers an insight into the huge Pebas Lake ecosystem which dominated this landscape around 10MYA.
Katy Upton
Theresa Dabruzzi
My PhD research focuses on whole organismal ecological physiology (how animals are adapted to their environment). I am especially interested in the adaptations of animals living in extreme environments, such as the intertidal. Working in Indonesia gives me the opportunity to work with animals across different taxa, including cephalopods, crustaceans, elasmobranchs, teleosts, amphibians, and reptiles, and allows us to examine how animals living in a single extreme habitat adapt differently to the same environmental stresses. We are also able to address many different types of physiological questions. Studies so far have examined resistance to water loss, bioenergetics and aerobic scope, thermal ecology, and hypoxia physiology. The habitats throughout Indonesia are some of the most biodiverse in the world, and you are never stalled for scientific inspiration being around so many interesting animals.
Theresa Dabruzzi
Samuel Jones
I am the senior ornithologist for the Honduras site in Cusuco National Park and have been working here since 2012. I am currently undertaking my PhD research on the behaviour and physiology of Nightingale-thrushes (Catharus sp.), particularly focussing on species 'turnovers' (where related species replace one another on elevational gradients). More broadly, I am interested in all aspects of avian ecology, of which the majority of tropical species are poorly known, with those in Cusuco being no exception! I have been an avid birder since childhood and have travelled and worked extensively worldwide with a particular fascination for regions and species that have received little scientific focus. My PhD research is funded by the NERC London Doctoral Training Partnership and I am based at Royal Holloway University of London.
Sam Jones
Charli Mortimer
Charli is based at Victoria University of Wellington and is completing her PhD in Indonesia investigating the trophic consequences of a shift towards sponge-dominated reefs. The degradation of coral reefs systems is leading to a rise shifts in dominance towards other benthic organisms. In Indonesia, the Sampela reef system has seen a decline in hard corals and a comparative increase in sponge densities over the last decade. Previous research in the area has focused the environmental drivers responsible for the regime shift but has paid little attention to how these changes will impact the trophic system. This research project will address these impacts by using stable isotope analysis and trophic modelling to compare food web structure and energy pathways on a sponge-dominated reef and a coral- dominated reef. Considering that almost 70-80% of reefs are found in developing countries with communities whose livelihoods are derived directly on their resources, it is critical that we address how regime shifts can alter the trophic structure of tropical reef systems in order to understand the life that can be supported by a sponge-dominated reef system.
Charli Mortimer
Alberto Rovellini
Alberto is a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund. He is a marine ecologist with an interest in coral reefs and their possible future regime shifts and alternative states due to rapidly changing oceans. Alberto’s research focuses on sponges, how they will cope with warmer and more acidic waters, and the functions they will cover on the reefs of the future. Since sponges might, to an extent, be among the “winners” of the climate change game, it is now crucial to understand how sponge reefs could form and function, how food webs could be reshaped around them, and ultimately what such shifts could mean for human use of marine ecosystems. Alberto is addressing these questions with the development of statistical and simulation models, useful tools to project our knowledge from experimental and field studies into the future, and have a glimpse of how reefs might look like in a few decades from now.
Alberto Rovellini
Christina Hunt
Christina is studying invasive lionfish for her PhD at Oxford University. Two species of Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) were introduced off the coast of Florida in the 1980s and now occupy a wide geographic range in the western Atlantic. Lionfish exert a range of detrimental effects in their invasive range, both through predation and through influencing the behaviour of other species. Current lionfish management involves culling by recreational divers, however, there is very little guidance on how to maximise catches, when to target culls and which individuals to target. Christina aims to provide solutions to these problems using behavioural experiments, dissection data and a tagging study in Honduras, Central America.
Christina Hunt
Rik Barker
Having worked as a Habitat Scientist at Opwall’s cloud forest site in Cusuco National Park, Honduras, for two summer seasons I am now starting a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast supported by Opwall looking at the carbon content of CNP and the effects of biodiversity on carbon storage in tropical forests. I will also be aiding with the Natural Forest Standard application for CNP which will bring in much needed money to help protect and conserve the Park for the future.