PhD class of 2016
After graduating in bioscience and ecology from Ruhr-University of Bochum in Germany I had the chance to get involved in the research around a coral reef restoration project in the South Caribbean. My project focused on the reproduction and recruitment of the iconic reef-building coral Acropora palmata, a species in a state of decline throughout the Caribbean due to rising sea water temperatures and growing human impact. I worked on the evaluation of restoration methods involving sexual reproduction of corals and on the optimization of conditions in a coral larvae and coral nursery aqua culture. Soon, I was confronted with the interaction of reef-building coral with their environment, and became aware of how complex and how little understood the mechanisms are, which underlie the ecology of a coral reef organism. My interest in marine ecology of coral reefs has grown since, and I wanted to further explore how environmental components determine the coral reef landscape and health condition. I consider this knowledge essential in order to implement restoration and conservation plans adequately. Also, this knowledge will enable us to make more accurate estimates and forecasts how coral reefs will develop in the face of global climate change and local disturbances.
Currently, in my PhD research I am using methods and tools from oceanography, marine ecology and molecular ecology to monitor the coral reefs of the Saudi Red Sea in front of KAUST. My main focus lies on the spatio-seasonal dynamics of basic environmental factors (physico-chemical parameters and micro-scale components such as algal settlement and biofilms), and on calcification and bioerosion processes which are crucial factors in the formation of reef habitats. Additionally, I had the chance to explore deep sea benthic communities in the Red Sea by joining the KRSE2013 cruise, which introduced me to work on the physiology of deep sea corals from this region.
It is an exciting undertaking to collect physical, chemical and biological information in situ, in a region that has remained unexplored for a long time. The Red Sea fosters a unique reef system among the world’s coral reefs. For instance, it experiences some of the warmest temperatures worldwide, which in other location are considered the upper limit for coral reefs. Therefore, reef organisms from the Red Sea are promising to reveal compliant strategies and adaptations, which may help shedding light on coral reefs under future global warming scenarios. For my future projects I am interested in directing my research further towards the detailed understanding of the impacts of local and global environmental changes on reef-building corals.