My research interests span the molecular to the ocean-level and have included studies on shallow and deep-water coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass. My main focus is the deep-sea and its benthic habitats (although I am increasingly interested in mesophotic coral reefs, another understudied ecosystem). The deep-sea is the largest habitat on the planet and arguably the least well known. Broadly I am interested in deep-sea ecosystems, what drives their biodiversity, and how we can limit human impacts in vulnerable habitats such as coral reefs, hydrothermal vents, and seamounts etc.
In the next five years, I see my research being focused in two areas:
- Deep-sea / marine connectivity – There are huge gaps in our understanding about how well deep-sea populations are connected, something crucial to any impact assessments undertaken on deep-sea ecosystems and, given expanding interests in deep-sea mining, and fisheries that increasingly focus on deep-sea areas, it is information both industry and conservationists/managers require.
- How speciation occurs, where it occurs and the mechanisms driving it – The basic processes that ultimately create diversity. The deep-sea is a highly diverse ecosystem and we have little to no understanding of why. The dawn of next generation sequencing means it is possible to study the genomics of speciation in the deep sea for the first time.
My current research is focused on deep-sea connectivity. I’m specifically interested in benthic ecosystems associated with seamounts and my focal areas include the northeast Atlantic, southwest Indian Ocean, mid-Atlantic and Southern Ocean. I’m also interested in the evolution and biogeography of deep-sea fauna. So far my work has centred on deep-sea corals; which was a natural progression from my years spent studying shallow water coral reefs. However, recent work also includes polychaetes (scale worms), brittlestars (ophiuroids) and sea cucumbers (holothurians).
Genetics are my tool of choice for targeting questions about evolution and speciation. My work so far has involved phylogenetics and barcoding and current work involves population genetics and next-generation sequencing (RAD-seq and RNA-seq).