Abstract: Reef building corals (Scleractinia) express an enormous range of morphological, physiological and phenological traits, which vary considerably between species. As coral communities respond to pervasive global stress, traits can help us explain, and predict, how the structure and function of reef ecosystems is changing. In this project, I will address a critical knowledge gap: how is the trait diversity of corals distributed globally, and how do these patterns impact reef ecosystems? In order to do this I will use phenotypic traits to describe coral species by (1) their relative contributions to ecosystem processes, and (2) their different responses to environmental stressors. Ultimately, I will integrate metrics of trait diversity with spatial trends in coral community structure, to compare patterns of trait diversity in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and across the Pacific biodiversity gradient. Next, I will use temporal trends in coral composition to quantify, for the first time, the effects of functional redundancy and response diversity on the stability of function in coral assemblages. Finally, I will use a unique experiment to test how coral trait diversity influences reef productivity at the assemblage level. Taken together, the results of this work will significantly improve our understanding of how reef functioning is likely to change as human-induced changes to the global environment continue to escalate.
Biography: Mike is originally from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, in the UK, and completed a degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford. As an undergraduate, he specialised in the biogeography and evolution of deep-sea corals with Oxford’s ocean research group. He also had the chance to study high-latitude reefs in Bermuda (BIOS). After working as a diving instructor in various locations, he started a PhD in 2015 at the ARC centre for coral reef studies, under the supervision of Prof. Terry Hughes, and Dr Mia Hoogenboom. He is interested in the distribution and diversity of form and function in reef-building corals, including what they do for ecosystems, and why they exist in the states that they do.