Limu-make-o-Hana , (deadly seaweed of Hana) is a toxic organism that is endemic to Hawaiʻi. Legend states that Hawaiian warriors applied this organism to their spears in battle and one touch would “bring sure death” to their enemies. Researchers later described this legendary limu as a new species of cnidarian zoanthid (colonial anemone), Palythoa toxica. This led to the discovery of palytoxin (PTX), which was described as one of the deadlest marine toxins ever discovered. Zoanthids of the genus Palythoa are distributed worldwide, and are found in shallow tropical and subtropical waters. Despite their ubiquity, particularly on Pacific coral reefs, there are only four species of Palythoa known from the Hawaiian Islands, P. psammophilia, P. vestitus, P. tuberculosa, and the rare P. toxica. I am interested in the distribution and origin of this toxin among zoanthid colonies throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
In addition to my research with zoanthids, I am also interested in the phylogeography of the coral banded shrimp, Stenopus hispidus. Being a popular marine ornamental shrimp and widely distributed from the Indo-Pacific to the western Atlantic Ocean; I am interested in how barriers and/or geological changes affect the gene flow of this species.