With over 400 million years of evolution, teleost fishes represent one of the most successful adaptive radiation events in vertebrate history. Their capacity to adapt to global climate change during this century, however, and the impact this will have on marine ecosystems worldwide, is poorly understood. The link between an organism and its environment can be interpreted by understanding the integrated physiological responses elicited when an organism is exposed to multiple, simultaneous stressors, such as environmental stressors associated with climate change.
My research to date has focused on the interactions between O2 and CO2 transport, acid-base balance and ion regulation in fish, where I have integrated responses from the molecular, cellular and whole-organism level. This has been the foundation on which I have explored environmental adaptations (mechanistic and evolutionary) including: 1) acute, chronic, and inherent changes in O2 uptake and delivery capacity associated with stress, activity, and environmental conditions, 2) the cellular stress response and how it influences O2 transport and ion balance, 3) temperature and O2-mediated distribution patterns, and 4) the effects of diet and environmental conditions on swimming performance, all of which are important for understanding the diversity of biological systems. In addition to discussing my current research, I will also present a research plan for assessing the interacting effects of the two key environmental factors associated with climate change (temperature and CO2) on coral reef fishes of the Great Barrier Reef. Using a combination of fieldwork, laboratory breeding experiments, and physiological performance indicators, I would aim to determine whether environmental acclimation and adaptation rates of coral reef fishes might keep pace with predicted changes in the ocean climate.