Tom Oliver

Tom A. Oliver

My research focuses on the potential for reef corals to adapt to increases in temperature caused by climate change.  Reef corals are very sensitive to changes in the water temperature of the reefs on which they live, with increases in temperature as apparently mild as one degree above long term patterns causing coral bleaching – a breakdown of the symbiosis between reef corals and the microscopic algae the live within their  tissues.  Paradoxically, corals as we know them have survived for tens of millions of years, through massive upheavals in climate.  This documented sensitivity and longevity suggests that corals have mechanisms to adapt to such changes in climate.

Most of my work examines the role of specific types of the corals’ symbiotic algae, dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium, which act differently in the face of stressful temperatures.  Specifically, clade D Symbiodiniumhas been shown to help the corals hosting them resist the negative effects of temperature stress.  By investigating the biogeography and genomics of this organism, we can better understand the process that reef corals will use to adapt to climate change, and therefore how we can best prepare for the changes to come.           

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