Kyle Zawada

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PhD Student

A trait-based approach to coral community ecology

The aim of my research is to use coral traits such as growth form, reproductive mode, etc, to group coral species by their functional similarity. By using characteristics of coral communities, and exploring how these characteristics change in different environmental contexts, I hope to be able to make inferences on changes to ecosystem function and community dynamics. Examples of the questions I hope to explore during my PhD are:

  • Can coral traits be reliably linked to demographic rates?
  • What level of covariance can be identified within traits? Which traits co-vary positively or negatively?
  • What level of plasticity do different traits have within a species? Is plasticity species-dependant?
  • What is the natural variability of traits within and between species?
  • Can identified traits be utilised to predict demographic shifts on long term (climate change) or short term (cyclone damage) patterns of disturbance?

To answer these questions I am using a wide range of data sources, including the online coral traits database, to primary data collected in the field, and historic coral specimen collections from museum collections. By pooling a wide range of data, I hope to identify the key traits that are important for determining coral community structure.

Dr Maria Dornelas (University of St Andrews)
Dr Josh Madin (Macquarie University)