Research Interests

I am a marine ecologist who is fascinated by the many ways in which microscopic organisms support the health and vitality of our oceans. Although invisible to the naked eye, there are five million bacteria and fifty million viruses in an average teaspoon of clean seawater. This rarely-seen majority of marine life is essential for maintaining balanced biogeochemical cycles that supports healthy fisheries and productive ecosystems. I am particularly interested in developing tools that shed light on otherwise data-poor and hard to see processes that span micro to macro scales. To this end, my work emphasizes the power of cutting-edge technologies to inform decisions in marine conservation and management that revolve around both microbial processes and larger-scale human behaviors (such as fishing).

A portion of my work to date has focused on the ways in which coastal pollution disturbs marine microbial processes, particularly in nearshore tropical marine ecosystems, with the aim of finding more sustainable solutions for land and coastal water use practices. I continue to actively refine microfluidic technologies to understand the ways environmental conditions can influence individual marine pathogen behaviors and thus the outcomes of disease for corals, shellfish, and finfish. By combining tools from engineering and biophysics, I am able to study disease at the scale on which it actually occurs: the microscale. The analytics used for this work (i.e. understanding the behaviors used by individual bacterial cells swimming in the ocean) are surprisingly useful for extracting behaviors from most any other moving entity. For example, we can use similar methods to analyze tracks from fishing boats and understand when and where fishing is happening as well as what types of gear are being used.

This illustration depicts how the bacteria I study can use gradients to navigate the ocean. In this case, the bacterium is a pathogen that infects corals and it uses chemicals that leak from the coral surface to locate its host.

This illustration depicts how the bacteria I study can use gradients to navigate the ocean. In this case, the bacterium is a pathogen that infects corals and it uses chemicals that leak from the coral surface to locate its host.

This image is one example of how improved microscopy techniques help our understanding of coral-bacteria interactions. You're looking into the mouth of a polyp with its red symbiotic algae, green fluorescence proteins that the coral makes, and bacteria stained in blue. This image was captured live with all of these organisms carrying out their normal behaviors.
This image is one example of how improved microscopy techniques help us to see the previously unseen, and improve our understanding of how bacterial interactions influence the health and disease outcomes for corals. You’re looking into the mouth of a polyp with its red symbiotic algae, green fluorescence proteins that the coral makes, and bacteria stained in blue. This image was captured live with all of these organisms carrying out their normal behaviors.

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