Lupita Ruiz-Jones
gjrj //at//
Graduate Student

For over a decade scientists have been amazed by a coral reef ecosystem off the shore of a small island in the south Pacific. The corals here thrive in variable and sometimes extreme environmental conditions. This coral reef is part of the National Park of American Samoa on Ofu Island, and I have been working with other members of the Palumbi lab to study corals of the genus Acropora that live there. The Ofu corals are exposed to natural temporal variability in pH that can span a range that is larger than the change in units predicted for global surface seawater means by 2100—this is why I am especially interested in them. Temperature also rises and falls with the tide. A lot of focus has been rightly placed on predicting climate change impacts, but we do not yet fully understand the influence natural environmental variability has on corals and the Samoan corals give us an opportunity to do just that.

The overarching goal of my dissertation is to understand if corals are sensitive to daily swings in pH and temperature in their environment. I am exploring this question by integrating two different approaches, looking at how corals respond to daily fluctuations in pH and temperature at physical and transcriptomic levels. One of my projects aims at studying short-term growth of the coral Acropora surculosa as a function of changing environmental conditions. And my other project aims at investigating how corals react to highly variable environmental conditions at a cellular level, by looking at changes in the transcriptomes of A. surculosa in the field across a tidal cycle encompassing the variation in magnitude of daily pH and temperature swings.

I have been interested in coral reefs since my undergraduate studies at Chaminade University of Honolulu. I was drawn to Hawai`i after my year of study abroad in Sicily, Italy; while there, I decided I really liked living on an island. During my time in Hawai`i, I interned at the University of Hawai`i's Kewalo Marine Lab, where I studied the impact of invasive algae on water flow over a coral reef and the metamorphosis of larvae of the nudibranch Phestilla sibogae.

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