Principal Investigator, Associate Professor
Identification of Coral Genotypes via DNA Fingerprint Analysis
Corals are tiny animals that belong to the same group (cnidaria) as organisms such as hydras, jellyfish, and sea anemones. Coral communities are highly complex systems and are comprised of a collection of diverse biological communities. Indeed, corals are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world and are the "rainforests of the oceans." Coral colonies consist of myriad individual organisms. Each individual is a polyp. Corals are sessile organisms. This means they are not capable of movement. Instead, they affix to a specific location. Corals feed by catching prey such as small fish and planktonic animals with long tentacles. Corals and coral reefs are exceedingly vulnerable ecosystems. Even minor environmental insults in the coral environment can have rapid- and devastating effects on the total array of coral colonies. Such environmental insults generally fall within two categories: natural disturbances, such as volcanic eruptions, and various disturbances emanating from humans. Our laboratory uses DNA fingerprinting- and nucleotide sequence analysis to determine the number of coral genotypes in the affected (Exclusion Zone) vs. unaffected regions of Montserrat; and if the numbers and DNA structure of coral genotypes differ in the two areas.
Experimental Systems to Examine Speciation
The evolution of any new species is thought to be a protracted process taking millions of years to occur. Recent studies of species as greatly disparate as fruit flies and salmon suggests that speciation, at least for some organisms in some circumstances, may occur at a greatly accelerated rate such that it is perceptible experimentally (Hendry et al, 2000). Would sudden and drastic changes in the environment of Montserrat induce equally rapid molecular changes in some organisms or microorganisms therein that are attempting to adapt? We will identify several organisms in the affected areas of Montserrat that may serve as useful experimental systems in which to study speciation.