On tropical coral reefs, diverse functional groups (sponges, hard corals, octocorals) coexist in high abundance. While many of these organisms support symbiont communities, recent research has highlighted the fact that these symbioses are incredibly diverse across co-occurring species. Using stable isotopes, my colleagues and I are interested in the functional "placement" of individual species within local food webs, the factors driving this placement, and the overall role that symbioses play in supporting diverse benthic communities.
As part of an ongoing project investigating factors controlling harmful algal blooms (HABs) within the Indian River Lagoon of central Florida, I am assessing the role of "top down" control by epibenthic grazers (like the barnacles and tunicates shown on the piling below, as well as other common invertebrates). Many of these organisms are capable of removing large amounts of organic matter from the water each day by filter feeding.