Marine Ecosystem Health

Coral Reef & Molecular Ecology


Project Team

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

Assistant Research Professor


Dr. Joshua Voss is the Executive Director of NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology and an Assistant Research Professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. His primary areas of interest include shallow and mesophotic coral reef ecology, coral health and disease, molecular ecology, marine conservation and management. Through Harbor Branch’s Robertson Coral Reef Program and CIOERT he works to discover, characterize, and protect coral reefs ecosystems. Voss is a certified technical diver and SCUBA instructor who has completed over 1500 scientific dives and led more than 35 scientific expeditions primarily in the Bahamas, Florida Keys, Dry TortugasBelizeCuba, and Gulf of Mexico with additional investigations in Panama, Curacao, Bonaire, Dominica, USVI, and St. Eustatius. 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, Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative Team and as co-lead of their Technical Advisory Committee, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Technical Advisory Committee, the South Florida Marine Research Hub, 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.



studivan.michaelMichael Studivan, Ph.D.


Dr. Michael Studivan is a postdoctoral fellow who completed his PhD in the lab in May 2018. His dissertation research examined the ecology and genetic connectivity of mesophotic coral reefs (30–150 m), and the interaction of environment and genotype on coral morphological adaptation to depth. His dissertation research addressed key questions regarding mesophotic reef ecology using Montastraea cavernosa from the Gulf of Mexico (Flower Garden Banks and Pulley Ridge) and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (Carrie Bow Cay, Belize), including: (1) How well are MCEs connected to shallow reefs? (2) How do shallow and mesophotic conspecifics differ in gene expression and corallite morphology? (3) Can corals adapt their morphology and gene expression to match changing environmental stimuli? Michael's dissertation tested these questions using a combination of molecular techniques (microsatellites and RNA-Seq) and a transplant experiment to assess connectivity, phenotypic plasticity, and gene expression responses of mesophotic corals. Prior to his graduate work at HBOI, 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 Xenia elongata bleaching (Studivan et al. 2015). He then worked at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory identifying Arctic benthic invertebrates for climate change and petroleum exploration research. He is a technical Trimix diver with certifications from GUE, AAUS, TDI, PADI, and PSI/PCI. He also has 10 years of video editing experience and has been producing outreach videos on YouTube at Voss Lab at FAU Harbor Branch.


Graduate Students

eckert.ryanRyan Eckert


Ryan Eckert is a Master's Student who joined the lab in January 2017. Ryan's thesis research is focused on the coral species Montastraea cavernosa at several sites within two marine reserves on the Belize Barrier Reef. He is using microsatellite markers and next-generation sequencing to examine how M. cavernosa populations and their assemblages of endosymbiotic algae (family Symbiodiniaceae) vary across a gradient from shallow to mesophotic depths. He received a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Florida State University. Prior to starting at HBOI he worked as a researcher at NOAA's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, starting in 2009. While at FGBNMS he coordinated offshore field logistics for scientific diving missions and Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) expeditions. He also ran quarterly long-term monitoring water quality sampling cruises and maintained long-term water quality sampling instrumentation.


sturm.alexisAlexis Sturm


Alexis Sturm is a Ph.D. Student who joined the lab in 2017. Her thesis research will focus on the characterization of mesophotic and shallow coral reef communities off the coast of Cuba. She will be utilizing a combination of molecular techniques to improve the understanding of the ecology, genetic connectivity, and associated symbiont assemblages of populations of the coral Montastraea cavernosa. She is a graduate of the University of Miami with dual degrees in Marine Science and Biology. Prior to her graduate work at HBOI, she worked in education and outreach and policy development for the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Office of Protected Resources. As an undergraduate NOAA Hollings Scholar, she led coral health impact and human use surveys in Tumon Bay, Guam. She also worked as an undergraduate research assistant in the Cnidarian Immunity Lab of Dr. Nikki Traylor-Knowles, focusing on wound healing processes in the coral, Pocillopora damicornis.


combs.ianIan Combs


Ian Combs is a Master's Student who joined the lab in August 2017. He received a B.S. in Marine Science with a concentration in Marine Biology from the University of Delaware. Ian's thesis research focuses on characterizing the impacts of a newly-described disease, known as Scleractinian Tissue Loss Disease, that is currently affecting scleractinian corals throughout Southeast Florida. Ian is fate-tracking individual colonies and using photogrammetry and three-dimensional modeling to assess disease progression rates. Before joining the lab, he previously worked as an intern with Mote Marine Laboratory's Coral Health and Disease Program where he examined genotypic responses to ocean acidification and rising sea surface temperatures in Acropora cervicornis. Ian also interned with Mote's Coral Reef Restoration Program.


gonzalezmendez.juliettJuliett González Méndez


Juliett González Méndez is a Ph.D. Student jointly supervised by Dr. Voss and Dr. S. Patricia González Díaz, director of the Center for Marine Research at the University of Havana. Her dissertation research will focus on the characterization of mesophotic and shallow coral reef communities off the coasts of Cuba and the application of these results to management of marine protected areas. She was a key participant in the 2017 cruise circumnavigating the Cuban archipelago. Juliett received her Biology degree from UH and then earned two Master's degrees related to marine ecology and management of marine protected areas. For the past 17 years her research and monitoring efforts in coastal marine ecosystems have contributed to the planning and management of marine protected areas in Cuba. As a specialist for Cuba's National Center of Protected Areas, Juliett's research focuses on the biology and ecology of coral reefs. She also coordinates the monitoring system for biodiversity in Cienaga de Zapata National Park.


shilling.erinErin Shilling


Erin Shilling is a Master's Student who joined the lab in August of 2018. Erin's thesis research involves comparing the success rates of various coral disease intervention methods, as well as analyzing any impacts these treatments may have on coral mucus microbial communities. Her work is part of a collaborative effort to save corals in the southeast Florida Reef Tract that are affected by an outbreak of a disease termed Scleractinian Tissue Loss Disease. Prior to FAU, she graduated in 2017 from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Biology, focusing on Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. Throughout her undergrad career, she interned with several non-profits and volunteered in the lab of Dr. Misha Matz at UT, where she examined potential biomarker genes in Acropora millepora. Erin also took a study abroad course while at UT which included a three-week field course in Akumal, Mexico, and led surveys to assess potential human influence on coral reef community structure. She took part in UT's Semester by the Sea program, spending a semester in Port Aransas, TX enrolled full time in field courses and labs.