Congratulations to Joshua A. Thia winner of this year's Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award. Joshua is currently studying toward a PhD in biology at The University of Queensland. His research interests broadly cover evolution and population genetics, and his PhD is specifically interested in understanding how different environmental and demographic processes impact the distribution of genetic variation across time and space. You can read his project summary below.
Stay? Ride the wave? Stick together? — Larval phase processes and connectivity in marine populations
Many marine organisms exhibit a two-phased life-cycle: much of the adult and juvenile stages are spent living on the benthos; however, during early development, larvae exist as plankton. Time spent as plankton could result in extensive dispersal amongst populations, but despite this, the planktonic duration can be a poor predictor of marine connectivity. In particular, genetic tools have demonstrated genetic structure (i.e. genetic divergence from lack of gene-flow) can arise across relatively small geographic scales. Studies often focus on adult populations, which is adequate when addressing general rates of population connectivity. However, determining the exact mechanisms governing these genetic patterns requires attention on larval phase processes.
My study addresses the combinatorial effect of three larval phase processes that ultimately impact patterns of connectivity in an intertidal fish species, Coco’s frillgoby (Bathygobius cocosensis). My first question considers a long-standing paradigm that larvae disperse widely: do larvae disperse away from their natal population, or are they locally retained? My second question will determine the role of ocean hydrodynamics on dispersal: do broad-scale ocean currents play a significant role in determining dispersal directionality, or is dispersal independent of major current flow? Finally, I will address the independence of larval dispersal trajectories: do larvae disperse independently of each other, or do they disperse as a group?
These three larval phase processes (retention rates, hydrodynamic influence, and group dispersal) act synergistically on larvae, impacting the distribution of genetic variation in the recruiting cohort and subsequently determining rates of connectivity. However, few studies consider all three processes at once, or specifically aim to test different contributions of each of these processes in different populations. Using novel genomic techniques my project seeks to enhance our understanding of the importance of combinatorial larval phase processes to marine connectivity by assessing the distribution of genetic variation in adult populations and juveniles cohorts simultaneously.
Joshua receives a $5000 research grant and will present his research outcomes at ESA17 in Pokolbin, NSW.
A Highly Commended was awarded to Jennifer Wood for her project "The below-ground Battle Royale: How plant roots drive microbial competition." Jennifer receives a one year complimentary membership to ESA.
Thank you to our panel members Jodi Price, Andrew Bissett and Melanie Massaro for their time and expertise in assessing the applications.