Feature Friday: Katya G. Bonilla

Hi, Katya G. Bonilla! Welcome to Reefbites. 

Twitter (@ktybnll)

Lab website (https://imbibelab.wixsite.com/researchlab)

Katya is a science research specialist at the University of the Philippines Diliman and MSc graduate in Marine Science. Katya’s research is focusing on the colony size at the onset of reproductive maturity of corals. Read more about her work below! 

Give an elevator pitch of what your projects are about: 

Most hard corals achieve a certain colony size and age first before reaching reproductive maturity. My research focuses on determining the smallest possible colony size and youngest approximate age at which different species of hard corals start to reproduce. I am also working on the quantification of the eggs at the onset of reproductive maturity and across different colony sizes to see how the counts and sizes of eggs change through time and as the colonies grow. I am also interested in investigating these different aspects of reproductive biology in different species of hard corals with varying life history strategies which will give us a holistic view of the reproductive and ecological dynamics on the reefs.

Why is this project important and timely?

Although there is some available information, colony size and age at the onset of reproductive maturity of some hard corals as well as the fecundity across different size classes are mostly lacking despite their important implications on coral population dynamics and demography. Given the effects of climate change on the colony sizes of corals, it is crucial now, more than ever, to determine at which colony size do corals start to reproduce to ensure the replenishment and sustenance of our coral populations on the reefs. The results of our research will also help inform restoration efforts as determining when and at what colony size do sexually cultured colonies start to reproduce is important in setting goals during restoration planning. 

What is the broader impact and implication of your work?

Colony size frequency distributions of many hard coral species have been affected by climate change which makes colonies smaller on average as projected. Our research suggests that even small colonies (less than 5 cm max. diameter) may play a role in contributing to the natural larval pool on reefs than previously thought. The results of our study will also provide baseline information for future population dynamics and population recovery models as we were able to determine the size and age at the onset of reproductive maturity well as how much gametes are being produced at the start of reproduction and as colonies grow of some hard coral species. Looking at the bigger picture, our research aims to help sustain healthy and thriving coral reefs that will harbor many reef-associated organisms (among its many services) that will feed not only millions of Filipinos but billions of people across the world as well.

How did you come to work in this field?

During my years as an undergraduate student, we went to many fishing villages for our field works and one major problem of many Filipino reef fishers throughout the Philippines is the declining amount of catch due to the destruction of our coral reefs. These exposures encouraged me to pursue further studies on our coral reefs. I got accepted for a master’s program at the Marine Science Institute a few months after my bachelor’s graduation and was fortunate enough to be hired as a science research specialist at the same time. My laboratory work entailed dissecting coral samples and examining histological slides to determine the fecundity and the gamete stages of different Acropora species from the different sites in the country. While working on this project, I was able to develop my skills in handling and processing coral samples for coral reproductive studies. It was also the time that I developed my interest in coral reproductive biology and ecology research while keeping in track with my personal reason why I pursued graduate studies in the first place.

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

Always find time to take a break even just for a day or two, you deserve it! Do the things that you love doing outside academia, go traveling, camping, hiking, play that instrument, go for a photo walk, play football, have a beer with friends, sleep in and watch movies, do your laundry and clean the house, just do something (or nothing) that you like. It will surely recharge you to work in the coming weeks or months and this will prevent burnouts. And of course, build a support group that will cheer you on whenever you’re down or celebrate with you when you’re achieving lots of things!

Any additional information or comments you would like to share?

Always pay it forward and don’t be afraid to share your research with your colleagues, friends, family members, and the community. Science for the people!

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