Carlos Tramonte

PhD Student
PI: Rob Toonen

My scientific journey has evolved from a youthful curiosity about the oceans to advanced marine research that has been built upon work with numerous principal investigators and agencies at sea, on land, domestically, and overseas, including: The University of Guam’s Bentlage Cnidarian Lab, Boston University’s Davies Marine Population Genomics Lab, and Boston College’s Wang Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry Lab, as well as organizations and government agencies such as NPS, NOAA, USFWS, and The Bishop Museum. These labs and organizations have allowed me to gain a wide breadth of skills as a field biologist, laboratory scientist, and writer, teaching me to effectively ask questions and create and execute project objectives. Currently, as a Ph.D. student at UH Mānoa, my research tackles many different questions across a wide breadth of topics. However, the general theme of my dissertation seeks to combine genetic and ecological research methodologies with traditional ecological knowledge to amplify the resilience of the American Sāmoan archipelago, especially in the face of the mounting challenges posed by climate change.

  1. Archipelago Wide Giant Clam Symbiont Assessments: Giant clams are essential organisms on the tropical reefs of American Sāmoa, providing some of the highest levels of net primary productivity. However, they are being overharvested at alarming rates, causing their populations to dwindle in the last thirty years. Similarly to corals, these clams harbor photosynthetic Symbiodiniaceae within their tissue, allowing them to grow in oligotrophic reef conditions. Certain Symbiodiniaceae have been known to increase the thermotolerance of their hosts, sparking interests in the role they may play within giant clams as temperatures rise with climate change. Current research by Ph.D. candidate Paolo Marra-Biggs has focused on population assessments and phylogenetics, giving us insight into the population structure within the American Sāmoan archipelago, but little is known about the Symbiodiniaceae residing within their tissues. As such, given that clam populations are decreasing due to overharvesting and that certain populations of Symbiodiniaceae may provide greater thermotolerance, we aim to piece together which populations contain the most thermotolerant Symbiodiniaceae across the entire archipelago with a goal of augmenting conservation strategies that safeguards this fishery for future generations.
  2. Mesophotic Reef Biological Characterization: Mesophotic reefs are reefs that pass the conventional depths of recreational SCUBA; 30–150m, and serve as an important, yet vastly under-studied components of the overall coral reef ecosystem within American Sāmoa. On Tutuila, American Sāmoa’s most populated island, mesophotic reefs cover 79% of the overall coral reef habitat, and have been previously hypothesized to act as contemporary refuges from overfishing and habitat destruction affecting shallower reefs. As such, they likely serve as sources of biodiversity, potentially replenishing species in more vulnerable areas. On an evolutionary scale, these deeper reefs have been shielded from sea level changes due to glaciation, suggesting that they may harbor older and more stable biological communities. As such, my research seeks to identify the biodiversity, prevalence, and distributions of mesophotic reef species of American Sāmoa using environmental DNA to further establish and refine Marine Protected Area boundaries to ensure that these mesophotic ecosystems thrive.
  3. Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge Report: I plan on documenting the rich tapestry of indigenous fisheries knowledge in American Sāmoa, with an emphasis on Giant Clam (faisua) fisheries so that we can begin to work alongside western science in fostering holistic and effective strategies for conservation and climate resilience.