PI: Rob Toonen
Graduate program: Marine Biology
Currently, my research is a continuation of a project I started with the National Park of American Samoa studying the population structure of the incredibly beautiful, yet largely overexploited giant clam (genus Tridacna). These organisms are extremely susceptible to overharvesting due to many life history characteristics: they are slow growing, relatively late in reproductive maturity, and they have an obvious and exposed sedentary adult phase.
For my master’s thesis, I am investigating the population and phylogenetics of the giant clams, aiming to construct a comprehensive phylogeny of the genus to discern between cryptic species and extend the geographic range.
Another research component of interest is the development of a restriction fragment length polymorphism technique. This tool would allow for the identification of the species, as their geographic ranges aren’t fully understood. Evaluating the population connectivity and population status across the archipelago is critical, as giant clams were recently petitioned to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
This project is illustrative of my passion – using a combination of ecological and genetic techniques to understand population structures of biologically-important species which are under threat of extirpation. Using these techniques, I hope to help the development of management action plans to implement more conservation-oriented fishery codes in developing nations. By understanding population connectivity amongst marine organisms, MPA’s can be established with more efficiency, preserving marine communities for the future.
Amidst the numerous threats and calamities our oceans face, it is critical that research results be disseminated to the general public. While not participating in collaborative research or enjoying various ocean activities, I work as a science educator aboard Lindblad National Geographic vessels around the world, communicating the various ecological challenges and remarkable wonder of the marine environment.