Coral reef ecosystems have sustained some of the most damaging effects of climate change. Despite demonstrated impacts and high mortality caused by temperature stress, little information exists on how variations in temperature, UV irradiation and nutrients due to coastal runoff affect the quality of coral immune responses and ability to fight infectious diseases. In addition, the study of biotic and abiotic stressors on marine invertebrates provides excellent study systems for elucidating chemical signaling cues and cellular processes of the innate immune system. In addition these systems can provide important insights into the evolution of defense mechanisms.
Research in my laboratory will focus on elucidating the cellular defense mechanisms of gorgonian and stony corals and examine the main environmental factors which can influence their success. I am particularly interested in defense responses which utilize and produce reactive oxygen and nitrogen. I am interested in addressing questions such as: What environmental factors can compromise immunocompetence of invertebrates? What are the cellular and physiological effects of biotic and abiotic stressors? What are the physiological effects of the invertebrate defense mechanisms on pathogen virility, diversity and evolution? What are the consequences of cytotoxic immune responses from invertebrate cells on both pathogens and host cells? Can pathogens defend themselves against oxidative stress or cytotoxic natural products produced by the host?