The Ecology of Coral Reefs:
By Doug McCauley     Awards: Giese, Myers, Miller

Coral Reef at PalmyraCoral reefs are highly diverse and valuable marine ecosystems that are under threat worldwide from myriad stressors. Providing for the future health of coral reefs and the people that depend on these reefs in a changing world requires accurately addressing the complex problems that face these systems.

In our research we study the ecology of coral reefs, the biology of key coral reef animals, and interactions between humans and reefs. All of this takes place in the remote central Pacific, primarily at Palmyra and Tabuaeran Atolls. Because coral reefs provide the literal foundation of atoll ecosystems and atoll societies, ensuring their long-term health in these settings is critical.

Manta RayLarge reef animals are preferentially harvested from reefs, and thus have severely declined across the globe. A considerable nmuber of these these large animals perform key functions in coral reef ecosystems. For this reason, we invest much effort in studying the ecology of these large animals resident in the areas we work. Past subjects of our research include grey reef sharks, bumphead parrotfish, and manta rays. Reef sharks are top predators that may exert important top down controls on reef communities. Bumphead parrotfish are the world’s largest parrotfish and consume literally tons of reef material every year. Manta rays are key players in planktonic communities and and the mainstay of many reef ecotourism operations.

coral reefThe diversity of coral reefs and the complexity of the threats that face them necessitate that that we combine efforts with multiple collaborators in order to address these issues. Our group uses tools from the fields of ecology, biogeochemistry, and anthropology to answer questions about reef ecology and reef health.

To learn more about our research please visit our research webpages and those our collaborators: Stanford Research at Palmyra, Woods Institute for the Environment Interdisciplinary Reef Research, Douglas McCauley (Hopkins Marine Station), Fiorenza Micheli (Hopkins Marine Station), Hillary Young (Dept of Biology), Doug Bird, and Bill Durham (Dept of Anthropology).

Giese, Myers and Miller Grants from the Hopkins Marine Station helped to support this research.

traptagged gray shark