PhD: Functional changes in coral reef marine protected areas
I moved to the UK in 2011 for my undergraduate degree in Ecology and Environmental Biology at the University of Leeds. After my second year at university, I decided to do an industrial placement at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I researched conservation priorities for Mozambique and carried out field work in the Chimanimani Mountains. Following my time at Kew and Leeds, I completed a Masters in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford. My dissertation at Oxford investigated the community management of a small-scale mud crab fishery in Madagascar. Upon completing my Masters, I stayed in Oxford to work with Earthwatch Europe’s FreshWater Watch programme. My research at Earthwatch aimed to determine the complementarity of citizen science and government agency collected monitoring data. A few months before arriving at Lancaster University, I saw an opportunity to take a few months to gain my qualification in and work as an eco-divemaster in the Caribbean.
Functional ecology is an increasingly popular and promising field of study. It provides a needed refreshing lens for conservation management. However, there is still much to be researched before meaningful change can be made. My project aims to determine how the functional diversity of the coral reef benthos and fish communities are influenced by Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This topic encompasses a range of questions including: How does coral reef functional diversity change in MPAs through time?; How does the functional diversity in smaller MPAs diverge from that of unfished wilderness?; How does coral reef functional diversity change in MPAs through major climatic disturbances?; and How does functional diversity respond to the selective removal of certain traits? In order to address such questions, I will be looking at and contributing to a range of datasets on functional diversity, as well as carrying out experiments in a Kenyan MPA.