Much of the diversity found on tropical reefs is composed of small cryptic invertebrate organisms that live in or on the coral matrix, these include mobile species such as crabs and shrimps, as well as sessile fauna including sponges, algae and soft corals. However, little is known about these organisms as they are often understudied in comparison to more conspicuous groups on the reef like fish and hard corals. These organisms are vital for the functioning of healthy reefs but are difficult to study as they are often encrusted, burrowed and hidden within hard corals, meaning sampling them directly from their natural habitat can be destructive. This is why I am using Artificial Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS); these highly standardised artificial devices provide a range of microhabitats for cryptofauna to recruit onto. These enable me to sample these communities in a standardised and replicable manner without harming the reef structure. Along with ARMS, I also use genetic tools and photography to analyse the diversity of cryptic invertebrate communities.
Ultimately, I am working to describe the baseline diversity of these understudied communities in the Chagos Archipelago as well as investigate how these are shaped by fluxes in local environmental conditions and sedimentation. In addition, I am also interested in examining how microbial communities interact with invertebrate communities and how we may include these two communities into coral reef biomonitoring programs.
Cryptic invertebrates form the largest part of coral reef diversity but many of them remain to be identified, catalogued and studied; the more we can learn about these communities, the better we can understand how reefs function as a whole.
Coral Reef ResilienceThe Conservation Value of Coral Reef Biodiversity for the MPA surrounding the Chagos Archipelago
I am also interested in how genetic tools can be incorporated into marine biomonitoring, how we can refine existing methods and incorporate new ones to survey coral reef health and functioning in a more holistic and community-based approach.