Hong Kong has a seasonally dynamic marine environment. Summer sea surface temperatures can exceed 30°C whereas winter temperatures can drop below 15°C. This range in temperature allows for year-round coral communities, and abundant growth of macroalgae in the winter. For my PhD, I am researching the role of the long-spined sea urchin, Diadema setosum, in the ecosystem, here in Hong Kong. Much work has been done on Diadema antillarum in the Caribbean, and some work has been done on the D. setosum as a bioeroder of coral reefs in the tropics. However, little is known about which marcoalgae these urchins feed on; how they affect the seasonal patterns of macroalgae growth and distribution; if the urchins target living corals here in Hong Kong or just the turf algae that grows on the dead skeletons of the corals. Answering these questions will help understand the food sources of the urchins and how their energy stores vary with the seasonal change in food abundance. I am also interested in the connectivity of the populations of D. setosum across its range, as they can be found from the East coast of Africa to French Polynesia, from Honshu, Japan to NSW, Australia. I want to compare the physiological performance of the urchins from stable tropical environments and highly variable environments to determine if they show extensive physiological plasticity, or if populations have adapted to variable environments. This will allow me to predict how these important grazers will cope with future conditions across their range.
2016: Bachelor of Science, Honours Marine Biology, University of British Columbia, Canada
2013: Arts and Science Diploma: Biology, Langara College, Canada
2015: Dean of Science Scholarship – Biology research grant
2013: Betty and Tony Pletcher Memorial Scholarship – For Achievement in Biology
2012: Real Estate Foundation Biology Student Bursary – Bursary for Biology students
Changes in local climatic conditions that cause ecosystem change is often recognised by a change in the stability of producers and consumers. A dominant component of tropical marine reef systems are algal turfs, which are recognised for their trophic importance as a main source of primary productivity. Coral reefs around the globe are experiencing ecological shifts to algal dominated ecosystems due to rising temperatures and enhanced availability of nutrients in the form of inorganic carbon (CO2). Herbivores play a vital role in ecosystem stability and resistance by grazing on this algae, though under current conditions, grazing provides a compensatory mechanism which could be masking the true scale of the disturbance being caused by this increased algae on the reefs.
My research in this area aims to gain a better understanding of how ocean acidification and warming may alter reef systems in Hong Kong. I am assessing the physiological response of sea urchin and gastropod species to altered conditions, by researching how metabolic and feeding rates are altered in response to multi-stressor conditions. Whether they can acclimate to these conditions will determine their functional role in Hong Kong in the future.
2015: Bachelor of Science (Honours): Environmental Science, University of Plymouth, UK
2013: Foundation Degree: Zoological Conservation, University of Plymouth, Cornwall College Newquay, UK
2013: University of Plymouth Student of the Year Award for Cornwall Colleges