Princeton Student Lisa McManus Awarded NMFS / Sea Grant Population and Ecosystem Dynamics Fellowship

August 12th, 2014

The Graduate Fisheries Fellowship Program administered through NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) awards at least two new PhD fellowships each year to students who are interested in careers related to marine ecosystem and population dynamics, with a focus on modeling and managing systems of living marine resources. This year, Princeton University PhD student Lisa McManus has been awarded a NMFS-Sea Grant Population and Ecosystem Dynamics Graduate Fisheries Fellowship to pursue research on her project: Assessing the impacts of connectivity on coral reef metacommunity dynamics in the Coral Triangle. Princeton University is a member institution of the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium who manages Ms. McManus’ fellowship award.

Ms. McManus studied Marine Biology at the University of Miami as an undergraduate, and is now a second-year doctoral student at Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Her dissertation work is aimed at developing techniques to address problems regarding marine ecosystem dynamics and management. Ms. McManus has hands-on research experience working at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii on a project that finalized the processing protocol for Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS), which are settlement devices designed to mimic the structural complexity of reefs. At the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, she has conducted experiments to characterize salinity selection in goldspotted killifish.

For the duration of the fellowship, Ms. McManus will study the effects of climate change on the larval dispersal of corals and how this, in turn, will affect the ability of corals to persist into the future. The region of focus is on reefs of the Philippines located within the Coral Triangle (CT), because of the vulnerability of this system and its importance to the food security of the region. She will use a combination of mathematical modeling and population genetics techniques to address key research questions.

“With this fellowship, I will have the funding to complete the genetics portion of my research. It is this component that will ground my theory in the real world, since it will help determine how different coral populations in the CT interact with each other,” explains McManus. “In addition, I will be able to work closely with Dr. Rusty Brainard, my NMFS mentor, who is an expert on the coral reef communities in my study location. Dr. Brainard’s advice is invaluable to the successful completion of my project.”

Ms. McManus plans to generate an estimate of how coral populations in the CT will change over time, particularly under the effects of different climate change scenarios. In terms of management, it is likely that certain areas will stand out as being particularly important sources or sinks of coral larvae, warranting them extra protection. She hopes that her research results will help guide discussions of policy in the region, such as in the implementation of marine protected areas.