Feature Friday: Kevin Wong

Hi, Kevin Wong! Great to have you on ReefBites. 

Twitter: @kevhwong

Instagram: @kevhwong

Github: https://github.com/kevinhwong1

Lab Website: http://putnamlab.com/

Kevin is Ph. D. student in the Biological and Environmental Sciences, Evolution and Marine Biology Specialization at the University of Rhode Island in Dr. Hollie Putnam’s lab. His research focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind cross-generational acclimatization in reef-building corals. Read more about Kevin’s work below! 

Give an elevator pitch of what your research/project is about.

Corals in the 21st century have been under unprecedented stress, as the increase in frequency and magnitude of disturbance events (e.g. bleaching events) are projected to reduce global coral cover. However, natural variation of stress response and tolerance in corals poses interesting questions to forecast the persistence of subsequent generations under future climate change conditions. Previous research in corals and other marine organisms suggests that parental histories, or previous exposure to environmental stressors, can “pre-condition” offspring to potential stressors. Therefore, understanding how parental environmental history can influence offspring fitness and how this process occurs will shed a light on how the next generation of corals will respond to future climate change conditions. My goal is to integrate physiological, epigenetic, and metabolomic data to elucidate the potential and underlying mechanisms for cross-generational acclimatization in corals to environmental stressors.

Why is this research/project important and timely?

My research integrates multiple fields of biology to understand the outcome of marine organisms under predicted climate change scenarios. In terms of policy and management, this research is fundamental to make decisions to aid the persistence of current and future coral reef ecosystems. Additionally, this research has the potential to relate to other systems, as we are predicting stress response pathways that can be relative to other organisms. In the face of rapidly changing oceanic conditions, it is fundamental to understand how/if marine organisms will rapidly acclimatize and the potential downstream consequences.

What is your top graduate school life hack or survival resource?

Have a notebook everywhere you go! Who knows when a great research topic, experimental design, or coding idea will pop in your head. I am constantly writing my thoughts down so I can look back at them later.

Location of fieldwork; why choose this location?

I have two main locations for my fieldwork: 1) Bermuda, at the BIOS (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences) field station, and 2) French Moorea, at CRIOBE (Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement) and the University of California Berkeley Gump field station.

Bermuda is situated at 32° north of the equator in the Atlantic Ocean, which makes it one of the most northern coral reefs of the world due to the warm waters provided by the warm currents of the Gulf of Mexico. Bermuda’s reefs have very high coral cover, but low diversity most likely due to its isolation in the mid-Atlantic. The natural variation reproductive patterns of the brooding coral, Porites astreoides, is thought to be primarily driven by differing environmental conditions. ,This provoked us to ask further questions about population resilience to future coral bleaching events.

In the past decade, subsequent bleaching events, Crown-of-Thorns outbreak, and a high magnitude cyclone decimated most of French Moorea’s corals. Currently, coral cover shows signs ofrecovery, indicating the high resilience of Moorea’s coral reefs. While being associated with the MCR LTER (Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research Program) and the FACE-PUF (French-American Cultural Exchange Partner University Fund), our lab is tackling questions regarding the resilience of future generations of corals under projected climate change conditions.

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