Feature Friday: Georgina Ramírez Ortiz

Hi, Georgina Ramírez Ortiz! Welcome to Reefbites. 


Twitter: @RamirezOrtizGi1

Georgina is a doctoral student (8th semester PhD Candidate) at the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste S.C. (CIBNOR). Her work focuses on temporal changes in taxonomic and functional diversity of reef fish at Marine Protected Areas. Read more about Georgina’s work below! 

Give an elevator pitch of what your projects are about.

Fish communities in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have changed in the last decade? These patterns are associated with management strategies or disturbance effects? In this project, I am evaluating shifts in fish species richness and functional diversity through time (2005-2017), in relation to natural and anthropogenic disturbances at four MPAs of the Mexican Pacific; one marine reserve (complete fishing ban) and three multi-use areas, where sustainable fisheries are allowed outside designated restricted zones. Preliminary results indicated that reefs in the marine reserve exhibit resilience by maintaining fish diversity. In contrast, multi-use areas presented declines in species and functional richness, associated with anthropogenic disturbances (increases in human population density and number of visitors). Expansion of restricted areas and enforcement of fishing regulations should be promoted to reverse the decline in species and functional diversity of fish in Mexican Pacific multi-use areas.

Why is this project important and timely?

The benefits of fully protected marine reserves on fish species richness and density have been demonstrated in many studies throughout the world while multi-use areas show controversial results. Considering that multi-use areas are the most common tool for marine conservation in developing countries (where large no-take reserves are not socially or politically feasible), it is necessary to evaluate how fish assemblages change through time and particular species responses to disturbances in these areas. Moreover, a comparison of these results with nearby marine reserves will help to determine if the persistence of moderate fishing pressure reduces the resilience of reef ecosystems in order to look for alternative protection schemes.

What is the broader impact and implication of your work?

Since MPA’s aim is to protect biodiversity and to promote the resilience of ecosystems, studies that analyze this capacity to maintain functions and processes to disturbance over time, are necessary to determine the responses of reef ecosystems under different management strategies. The results of this work could be used by parks managers to evaluate the effectiveness of protection at community level, the consequences of disturbances in the functions and ecosystem processes, as well as to determine priority species for conservation in the four studied MPA ’s (Loreto, Espíritu Santo, Cabo Pulmo y Huatulco). Moreover, this study could be used as a reference for future resilience analyzes of reef ecosystems in multi-use areas of developing countries.

How did you come to work in this field?

Since I was in college I knew I wanted to study ecology of reef ecosystems, and I did my Bachelor’s thesis in community structure of sea urchins in Mexican Pacific reefs. Before I started my Master studies one of my colleagues shared a paper with me about a comparison of fish and invertebrates assemblages between MPAs and fishing zones (Edgar et al. 2011). He told me that this work could be a good inspiration to propose my thesis topic and he was right! In this paper I found the term “functional group” that encouraged me to investigate more about ecological analysis based in groups more than particular species, in order to describe functions and ecosystem processes. This was my introduction to the study of functional diversity that allowed me to make a regional comparison of fish and invertebrates assemblages from México to Ecuador (Ramírez-Ortiz et al. 2017), thanks to collaboration of different research groups including Dr. Edgar’s program (for more information visit reeflifesurvey.com). Nowadays, I am analyzing other perspectives of functional diversity, as temporal changes associated with protection by MPA’s (Ramírez-Ortiz et al. 2020), with Dr. Edgar as part of my thesis committee. Considering that the concept of functional diversity is relatively new (it was proposed in late 1980’s), there is still a lot of theory to develop in this field, and I will like to continue working on it, especially analyzing the relationship between functional redundancy and ecosystem resilience.

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

I think that work on side projects besides my thesis helped me during graduate school to learn different skills, to expand my collaboration network and to develop new and interesting ideas. However, it is necessary to organize your time and prioritize activities, in order to meet your deadlines and goals, but also to take care of your physical and mental health. Make use of the counseling and mental health center at your campus, they have great advice to confront graduate school challenges!

Any additional information or comments you would like to share?

Share your knowledge! Less than 4% of the students assist to graduate school and have the chance to learn as much as us. It is not necessary to be an eloquent speaker or a gifted writer, look for your abilities and help to spread more science in the world. If you are interested in teaching and inspire the next generation of Mexican scientists visit: clubesdeciencia.mx

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