Biodiversity and Biogeography of Indo-Pacific Soft Corals

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Throughout the Indo-Pacific region, octocorals (soft corals and sea fans) are the second-most abundant invertebrates found on coral reefs, where they compete for space with the dominant, reef-building stony corals. Changing ocean conditions appear to be shifting the dynamics between stony corals and octocorals in ways that will fundamentally alter the structure and function of reefs. Relative to the well-studied stony corals, however, little is currently known about the basic ecology of most octocorals, including how many and which species co-occur or how their populations vary over space and time, information that is necessary to determine which species may be imperiled by climate change and which may instead be benefitting. This lack of basic information is due in large part to the difficulty of distinguishing and correctly identifying octocoral species. Our lab is addressing this problem using molecular proxies (DNA "barcodes") to define species. This approach allows us to quantify species diversity, enabling the identification of geographic regions with high species richness, high endemicity or phylogenetically unique lineages that may merit special protection. This summer we will focus on quantifying the diversity of soft corals collected from Oman (northern Indian Ocean) and Australia’s Coral Sea Territory. The work will involve extracting DNA from preserved specimens, PCR-amplifying and sequencing DNA barcode markers, and running a variety of statistical analyses to compare biodiversity and community composition among locations throughout the Indo-Pacific.

Name of research group, project, or lab
Coral lab
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Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

No specific background is necessary other than Bio23, but students with previous experience in the lab will be preferred.

Time commitment
Summer - Full Time
Paid Research
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Contact Information:
Cathy McFadden
Principle Investigator
Name of project director or principal investigator
Cathy McFadden
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3 sp. | 0 appl.
Hours per week
Summer - Full Time
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