Hi, Maureen Ho! Great to have you on ReefBites.
Maureen is a PhD candidate in the Coral Reef Algae Lab at Griffith University in Australia. Her research focuses on examining ecophysiological responses in tropical fleshy macroalgae on the Great Barrier Reef. Read more about Maureen’s work below!
Give an elevator pitch of what your research/project is about.
My research focuses on understanding ecophysiological responses in tropical fleshy macroalgae on the Great Barrier Reef. I’m particularly interested in the role of carbon physiology in those responses and how organismal metabolism is affected when subjected to varying environmental gradients. My research attempts to integrate 4+ environmental parameter levels (e.g. temperature, light) to better map functional response curves to a changing environment using both manipulative tank and in situ field experiments.
Why is this research/project important and timely?
Fleshy macroalgae use two inorganic carbon (Ci) sources (i.e. HCO3– and CO2) for physiological and biological processes. Their ability to take up either one is dependent on the availability of Ci in seawater, and these concentrations are shifting under ocean acidification. By examining the role of physiological plasticity in algae under current and future global threats such as ocean warming and acidification, it can help us link certain physiological traits to macroalgal distribution, and better predict adaptation trajectories of certain species.
What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?
Macroalgae generally tend to be negatively associated with coral reefs, despite their high biological diversity and contribution to tropical reefs. They have a significant role in sequestering CO2, providing habitat structure, and contributing to primary production. But they can also rapidly inhibit space and outcompete slower growing benthic reef organisms. Thus, macroalgae have varying important functional roles on reef ecosystems that can differentially affect reef assemblages. I hope my work can aid in determining and better predicting patterns in macroalgal responses, particularly dominant species on the GBR, under a rapidly changing environment.
How did you come to work in this field/project?
In all honesty, a whole lot of serendipity. While I always knew I wanted to be a marine biologist, I didn’t see myself going further than a bachelor’s degree. At the time, I was really interested in fish (behavior) and worked as an aquarist for a couple years while finishing my degree. But my undergraduate advisor pushed me to apply for a research semester on Catalina Island, CA where I took a phycology course with Dr. Robert Carpenter. It got me really fascinated with seaweed, and under the encouragement of Bob, led me to apply for my Msc in his lab. During my final year, I realized I really wanted to pursue research, and ICRS was around the corner. So, I went to ICRS in 2016 to present some of my master’s work, got to meet/network with so many coral reef scientists (one being my current PhD supervisor), and decided to apply for PhD programs in Australia. Few months later, I got accepted!
What is your top graduate school life hack or survival resource?
Spend time with nature, as much as possible, and be ok to disconnect. Your work will always be there, so it’s really important to take breaks (without feeling guilty) or you will be easily burnt out. Don’t forget to continue doing things that you love and actually MAKE the time to do it! As for the field, you have to have your staples to get through the really rough and long days, like coffee and dark chocolate Tim Tams.
Location of fieldwork; why choose this location?
I’m lucky enough to have worked on both Lizard Island (northern Great Barrier Reef) and Heron Island (southern Great Barrier Reef). Both places were chosen as they have excellent research facilities to conduct both manipulative lab and field experiments. Lizard Island had one abundant species of algae I was interested in working with (Lobophora spp.) that has been commonly associated with coral degradation and outcompeting corals, and Heron Island has an excellent selection of diverse macroalgal species.
Any additional information or comments you would like to share?
Science can be really hard and lonely sometimes. It’s so important to surround yourself with supportive people who empower each other in this often cut-throat environment. At its worst, you feel like you’re completely in it alone, lost, and questioning the purpose of it all. But, don’t be afraid to talk to others and seek support, discuss ideas, and collaborate because at it’s best, you will find that everyone is just as passionate as you are, and there is an amazing community out there with the same strong curiosity and desire to share and gain knowledge.