Coral Reef & Molecular Ecology

Project Team


Project Lead - Joshua D. Voss, Ph.D.

Assistant Research Professor

Lab site

Dr. Voss’s primary areas of interest include shallow and mesophotic coral reef ecology, coral health and disease, molecular ecology, and marine conservation and management. Through Harbor Branch’s Robertson Coral Reef Program and the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Exploration, Research, and Technology , he works to discover, characterize, and protect coral reefs ecosystems. He has completed over 1000 scientific dive and led more than 30 scientific expeditions primarily in the Bahamas, Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas, and Gulf of Mexico with additional investigations in Panama, Belize, Curacao, Bonaire, Dominica, USVI, and St. Eustatius. Dr. Voss teaches undergraduate courses in the Harbor Branch Semester by the Sea Program, graduate courses in the FAU Department of Biology, and molecular workshops for high school students. He also serves on various committees including the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council Coral Advisory Panel, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Technical Advisory Committee, and FAU’s Diving and Boating Safety Committee. After growing up on the beaches of central Florida, Voss attended Elon University in North Carolina and completed a B.S. in biology along with minors in philosophy and chemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in biological sciences at Florida International University in Miami, and was a member of the marine science faculty at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg before accepting his current position at Harbor Branch.


Lisa Cohen

Lisa is a biological scientist in the Robertson Coral Reef Program with >10 years of lab and field experience. Her broad research interests include understanding physiological responses of indicator species to environmental changes, applying research methods towards the development of adaptive environmental resource management strategies, and working towards sustainable coastal development. Lisa’s primary tasks are molecular diagnostics, such as gene expression analyses using microarray technology, used to assess sub-lethal intracellular responses of corals to environmental stressors. Lisa earned an M.S. in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, an M.S. in Environmental Resource Management from the Florida Institute of Technology, and a B.S. in Biochemistry with a minor in music from Eckerd College. When not in the lab, Lisa enjoys playing the cello with the Vero Beach Chamber Orchestra.


Courtney Klepac

Courtney is a master’s student who joined the lab in 2012. Her thesis research is focused on molecular characterization of the endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium) in coastal coral hosts near to St. Lucie Inlet. This region is frequently subjected to estuarine discharge, and her research will provide baseline data to assess potential impacts from changing estuary management. After completing her B.S. in marine biology at Texas A & M University at Galveston, Courtney worked for a non-profit organization instructing coastal ecology and instilling stewardship through kayak tours, naturalist watercolor sessions, and habitat restoration. Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, she monitored pelagic plankton communities in the Gulf of Mexico as a biological technician with CardnoEntrix. Courtney is a small-town Texas girl with immense passion and love for the ocean. She’s an aspiring marine conservationist, avid surfer, and owns a small business that spreads the beauty of nature through hand-painted sneakers.


Michael Studivan

Mike is a Ph.D. student who joined the lab in fall of 2012. He completed his undergraduate degree at St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a senior thesis describing the effects of oil dispersant exposure on soft coral bleaching. His current research aims to provide information on the ecology and genetic connectivity of mesophotic reefs (>30m) and the importance of environment and genotype on coral morphological characteristics. He is an avid PADI and AAUS Scientific Diver, and enjoys designing and maintaining tropical mesocosms.


Maureen Williams

Maureen is a lab assistant in the Robertson Coral Reef Program working with Dr. Voss. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she worked in stream biogeochemistry, cheered at football games, and graduated with a B.S. in Biological Science. During her undergraduate years, she completed an R.E.U., a Clare Booth Luce undergraduate research fellowship, and two summer internships at Harbor Branch, during which time she focused on microcosm experiments related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Following her undergraduate years, she was awarded a Naughton Fellowship to complete her M.S. in Environmental Science at University College Dublin, Ireland. She worked on planktonic community data analysis for the Tara Oceans Expedition and spent time scuba diving and playing tag rugby. Currently, she focuses on the St. Lucie Reef and Flower Garden Banks projects. As a native Floridian, she is interested in the broad impacts of human activity on coral reef ecosystems.


Lab Alumni

Thomas Camacho

Thomas is an undergraduate assistant working on the St. Lucie Reef project. As a biology major, working at Harbor Branch's genomic lab allows him to work with RNA and apply technology to see genes being expressed on a microarray. Thomas has always had strong interests in genetics and RNA in living organisms. He also loves physics and how the world works, going to the beach, and playing music



Elizabeth Fahsbender

Liz was a summer intern who assessed changes in the bacteria communities of coral mucus following exposure to oil, dispersant, and disease. Currently Liz is a graduate student in Dr. Mya Breitbart’s lab at the University of South Florida where she is using viral metagenomics to characterize emerging diseases.


Miguel Martini

Miguel is an international student from Guatemala and a senior at Florida Atlantic’s Honors College, majoring in marine biology major with a business minor. Miguel attended Semester by the Sea in the spring of 2012. The following summer, he volunteered in Dr. Voss’s lab and started to work on his senior thesis, investigating the variable susceptibility of Montastraea faveolata to black band disease. Miguel is very interested in a future career in agribusiness and plans to pursue graduate school studies focused on aquaculture and farm management.


Daniel Rowan

As an NSF Undergraduate Research and Mentoring Program Fellow, Dan studied the effects of temperature and light on the pathogenesis of black band disease in corals. After graduating from FAU, Dan returned to Michigan and has held various positions, including biological restoration technician at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.


Ashley Sproles

Ashley is currently a lab assistant in the coral reef and molecular ecology laboratory with Dr. Voss. She graduated from Florida Institute of Technology in 2012 with a double major in marine biology and conservation biology & ecology. Her research interests include coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis and the conservation of coral reef ecosystems. Throughout her undergraduate studies she has attended a summer field class on coral ecology held in Puerto Rico, attained her AAUS scientific diver certification, and completed internships at the Florida Aquarium and Harbor Branch. At Harbor Branch, she completed a project on the quantification of zooxanthellae and chlorophyll from Diploria clivosa and Montastraea cavernosa coral hosts at St. Lucie Reef, a location where nearby estuarine runoff may be affecting coral health. Outside of work she enjoys attending concerts, spending time outdoors, and taking care of her saltwater aquarium. Ashley has recently been accepted into the Ph.D. program at Victoria University in New Zealand.



Last Modified 1/10/14