I initially set off studying biology at the University of Hannover in Germany, but it was a year abroad studying tropical marine ecology and fisheries biology at James Cook University Townsville in Australia that got me hooked on marine sciences. And
I later returned to Townsville, but this time to the Australian Institute of Marine Science, for my MSc thesis work on the physiological diversity of symbionts in benthic Foraminifera. Foraminifera are giant protists that build calcium carbonate shells,
and they engage in symbioses with a wide variety of unicellular algae, including chlorophytes and rhodophytes, but also diatoms and dinoflagellates. The functional complexity of these symbioses still intrigues me and remains the focus of my research
Before continuing on my path as a Ph.D. student, I had the chance to get involved in a research project at Senckenberg Natural History Museum investigating the marine habitats around Yemen’s World Heritage Socotra Island in the Gulf of Aden. This work focused on assessment of reef-building corals, which share certain properties with Foraminifera. For example, they also secrete calcium carbonate skeletons and they engage in symbiosis with dinoflagellate endosymbionts. The flexibility and phenotypic plasticity of this symbiosis between corals and dinoflagellates was then the focus of my Ph.D. research, which I conducted in collaboration between the University of Frankfurt and Chris Voolstra’s group at the Red Sea Research Center, where I am currently working as a postdoctoral fellow.
Coral reefs belong to the most diverse ecosystems on this planet, but they also belong to those that are most vulnerable to anthropogenic (man-made) climate change and coastal pollution. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the complex world of hermatypic corals, which build the foundonment, both natural and anthropogenic, influence the equilibrium in the coral holobiont. To disentangle how the host and symbiont compartments interact and to understand how they are affected by environmental change, I use ecophysiological and genomic tools as well as experimental approaches.