Marine Biology · Ecosystem Ecology · Disease Ecology · Global Change
The world's oceans provide numerous ecosystem services to humans, including food security, coastal protection from storms, and climate regulation. Shifts in species interactions driven by anthropogenic impacts on oceans are leading to the loss of ecosystem services globally. In the Feehan Lab at Montclair State University, we study the ecology of coastal marine communities with an emphasis on understanding the stability of these communities in the face of global change. We use a combination of empirical and theoretical approaches to examine the mechanisms by which anthropogenic activities are altering the structure of marine communities; and the reversibility of these alterations.
Extinction Risk on Coral Reefs
It is well documented that disease outbreaks are increasing in the ocean, with mounting evidence that a warmer ocean under climate change is a sicker ocean. It has recently been recognized that disease outbreaks within a single taxon, the sea urchins, are driving shifts in coastal community structure globally.
What role will disease outbreaks play in the extinction of marine species? And how will disease interact with other stressors linked to global change (e.g. strong storms) to determine the fate of species?
In the Feehan Lab, we are examining sea urchin extinction risk and the concomitant risk of secondary extinctions in coral reef ecosystems. We are partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conduct scientific research that will inform the management and conservation of coral reefs.
A coral reef ecosystem in the Florida Keys. A black long-spined sea urchin Diadema antillarum can be seen in the lower center of the photo.
Measuring influx of D. antillarum larvae.
Regime Shifts in Kelp Forests
In the age of rapid global change (termed "The Anthropocene"), scientists are increasingly concerned with the effects of multiple stressors on biological communities. In the Feehan Lab, we are examining the combined effects of multiple stressors on kelp forest ecosystems. Kelp forests are considered the marine analogues of tropical rainforests due to their broad spatial extent and high productivity and biodiversity. Globally, kelp forests have undergone regime shifts from domination by productive kelps to domination by less productive alternative ecosystem states of: 1) sea urchin barrens, or 2) algal turfs.
How do multiple climate-driven changes to the marine environment mediate regime shifts between alternate ecosystem states in kelp forests? And how do the ecosystem services provided by novel anthropogenic ecosystems differ from those provided by healthy kelp forests?
If these questions are of interest to you, consider joining the Feehan Lab!
A kelp forest ecosystem that has shifted to turf. A single blade of kelp Saccharina latissima can be seen in the center of the photo.