The long-standing paradigm that ecology and evolution play out on different timescales is increasingly challenged by recent studies that show real-time interaction of the two. Similarly to terrestrial examples, it is expected that eco-evolutionary dynamics define both the population trajectories and adaptive capacity of marine organisms. But contrary to the relative simplicity of terrestrial ecosystems, the complexity of the natural history of many marine taxa pose significant challenges for our attempts to understand how ecology and evolution interacts on short timescales in the sea. This seminar will explore some of these challenges through the example of reef-building corals, the ecosystem engineers of one of the most biologically diverse, socially, ecologically and economically valuable, and environmentally sensitive ecosystems of the planet. Recent global-scale disturbances have decimated coral populations worldwide, and whether these populations will be able to recover in an era of ever more frequent and severe perturbations is at the focus of global interest. I will discuss how density dependent mechanisms, ecological feedback loops, connectivity, complex reproductive strategies, and symbiotic relationships complicate ecological and evolutionary models that aim to predict the fate of coral reefs in the Anthropocene.
Dr. Greg Torda is a Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies with an interest in coral ecology and evolution. His research uses natural experiments (e.g. tropical cyclones, severe bleaching events) and environmental contrasts to understand how the coral holobiont adapts to a rapidly changing environment, and how interspecific differences in stress tolerance and adaptive capacity will alter the composition of benthic communities on tropical coral reefs in the Anthropocene. Originally from Hungary, Greg received his MSc degree in Zoology from Szent Istvan University in 2000, and his PhD from James Cook University in 2013.