MARINE MICROBIAL SYMBIOSIS AND DISEASE  ●  GLOBAL CHANGE CORAL REEF ECOLOGY  ●  ENVIRONMENTAL VIROLOGY  

The Correa Lab uses interdisciplinary approaches to understand how microbes influence hosts and ecosystem processes, particularly under environmental stress. Some of our current projects are outlined below.

Current Projects: Viral Reefscapes: The role of viruses in coral reef health, disease, and biogeochemical cycling                          OCE-1635798, Co-PIs: Andrew Thurber, Rebecca Vega Thurber

Ecologically and economically, coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. Global (climate change) and local (nutrient pollution and overfishing) stressors are drivers of coral reef decline that can disrupt the symbiotic associations among corals and resident microbial communities, including dinoflagellate algae, bacteria, and viruses. Viruses interact with all living cellular organisms, are abundant in oceans, and integral to marine ecosystem functioning. This project will be the first to quantify the variability of viral infection in corals across different reef habitats and across time. This will increase our understanding of the total diversity of coral viruses and illuminate the full suite of factors that trigger viral outbreaks on reefs. At the same time the project will evaluate how carbon and nitrogen cycling are altered on coral reefs as a result of global and local stressors that trigger viral infection. This project will ultimately broaden our understanding of the impacts of viruses on reefs beyond their role as putative disease agents. 

Impact of freshwater runoff from Hurricane Harvey on coral reef benthic organisms and associated microbial communities.     OCE-1800914, Co-PIs: Sarah Davies, Lory Santiago-Vazquez, Kathryn Shamberger, Jason Sylvan

Anthropogenic climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of storms, which can physically damage reef structures and reduce reef health through changes in seawater quality. In August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in southeast Texas when it released more than 50 trillion liters of rain, which then accumulated along the Texas Shelf. This runoff is expected to impact nearby coral reefs in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS, northwest Gulf of Mexico) via eddies and jets that transport coastal waters offshore. Findings from this project will allow managers to quickly predict whether extreme storm events are likely to induce reef mortality and ecosystem decline due to freshwater accumulation, by tracking of low salinity water masses coupled with microbial community characterization and metrics of coral health. These data are critical to managing coastal ecosystems, including the high coral cover reefs in the FGBNMS, and will help stakeholders (e.g., diving and fishing communities) plan for and minimize disruption to their livelihoods following these storms. 

Predicting the spread of a SCTLD-like disease in the USVI        OCE-1928609, Co-PIs: Amy Apprill, Marilyn Brandt, Daniel Holstein, Erinn Muller, Laura Mydlarz, Tyler B. Smith

Coral reef ecosystems provide substantial economic resources to the societies of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and other US locations in the forms of tourism, fishing and coastal protection. However, reefs are among the most threatened marine environments, and coral disease is having a devastating impact on these valued systems. In early 2019, a multi-species rapid tissue loss disease matching the description of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) was found severely affecting a reef off the southwest coast of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands (USVI). SCTLD has been devastating coral reef communities in southeast Florida for the last four years, and was very recently reported from disparate areas around the Caribbean, including Mexico, Jamaica, and St. Martin. Rapid surveys by the investigators at the University of the Virgin Islands indicate that a 50 km2 area southwest of St. Thomas is the initial incidence area of the disease, but will likely spread across the USVI, British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. This study performs experiments to understand how this disease affects coral species immune traits and compares the microbiology and physiology of disease samples in the USVI to samples from Florida. It also examines how changing the species composition of a coral community affects the spread and impact of the disease. The overall aim is to produce a model to predict the impact of multi-species disease spread on reefs based on coral species assemblages.

Equipping USVI managers with high and low-tech options for native reef fish and seagrass conservation: mitigating impacts of the invasive seagrass, Halophila stipulacea.        NA18NOS4820104, Co-PIs: Marilyn Brandt, Scott P. Egan

This research aims to mitigate the impacts of an invasive species on native biodiversity and ecosystem function by developing highly sensitive and dependable environmental DNA (eDNA) metagenetic tools and applying them to: 1) characterize the distribution of the invasive seagrass, Halophila stipulacea, in St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands); and 2) quantify how Caribbean reef fish communities differ in native versus H. stipulacea invaded seagrass beds.


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Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Program

BioSciences at Rice

© Adrienne Simoes Correa 2016