Welcome to ReefBites, Louise! Great to have you.
Louise is a PhD Candidate at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on functional, trait-based understandings of coral reef resilience to support management. Read more about Louise’s work below!
Give an elevator pitch of what your research/project is about.
My project uses species traits and applies functional ecology perspectives to understanding ecological resilience on coral reefs, and how this in turn can inform management and conservation planning. It examines how the combinations of traits present in a community varies with different kinds of disturbance, from localised fishing activity to global coral bleaching events, at a range of spatial and temporal scales. This is used to identify aspects of resilience or vulnerability in fish and coral communities, with implications for management decisions in the face of rapid environmental change.
Why is this research/project important and timely?
We all know that coral reefs and the people that they support are facing huge challenges with growing climate impacts alongside more local stressors. It is increasingly clear that we will see major changes to how coral reefs function. My research aims to contribute to our understanding of the different roles that species play on a reef and how that knowledge can be used in decision-making.
What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?
The characteristics of different species, known as their traits, tell us about the different roles or functions that those species perform in an ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem thus needs a variety of different functions being performed by the species that live there. Traits can also determine how different organisms respond to different stressors. For example, in this work we are finding that some big, piscivorous fish are more prevalent in places where there is greater disturbance from certain kinds of fishing, and the impacts of bleaching on different reef habitats really depends on what traits were present in the coral community in the first place. These insights can be applied to management choices about which areas or species to protect and what strategies to use.
How did you come to work in this field/project?
I have always been interested in ecology, though it took me a long time to realise I could make a career out of doing the science! I grew up near the Red Sea, and coral reefs shaped how I thought about ecosystems. I did a BSc in Biology, and an MSc in International Marine Environmental Consultancy, both at Newcastle University in the UK. I gravitated towards marine projects throughout, working on sea anemones, limpets and intertidal corals.
After that I spent some time at a consultancy in Oman doing a mix of terrestrial and marine work. It was a really enjoyable and varied experience, where I learned a lot about delivering projects and what ecology can look like outside of academia. I still wanted to get stuck into a longer-term project that I could see through from start to finish, so when I saw this PhD advertised it was too exciting not to give it a go! It ticks all the boxes for me in terms of a cool research question, fieldwork opportunities and working closely with conservation practitioners.
What is your top graduate school life hack or survival resource?
Have hobbies and interests that are completely separate from your identity as a researcher and make time to actually enjoy them. For me, this means taking weekends to go caving in the Yorkshire Dales. It motivates me to get everything done during the week and come back on a Monday excited to get to work!