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Coral Reef Biodiversity as a Management Tool

Dr. Alexander Kerr Dr. Alexander Kerr, a 1997 EPA STAR Fellow, received his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University.   He is an Associate Professor of Marine Biology at The Marine Laboratory, University of Guam.

“20% of the world’s coral reefs have been effectively destroyed” according to The Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004.  In addition, the report predicts that 24% of the world’s reefs are under imminent risk of collapse.  Coastal development, global climate change, overfishing, and runoff from pollution have all contributed to the decline.  But why should we care?

Coral reefs provide an abundance of “ecosystem services.”  They are sources of food and medicine for humans, they protect shorelines from storms, and they provide economic benefits from tourism.  From a global ecosystem perspective, coral reefs display some of the planet’s highest biodiversity. 

Reef biodiversity surveys often find that up to 50% of the species are poorly to completely unknown to taxonomists, the scientists who name and catalogue species and their interrelationships. Dr. Kerr’s goal is expanding our taxonomic understanding of coral reef fauna.  His research group has produced phylogenetic trees for Scleractinia (stony corals) and Holothuroidea (Sea Cucumbers) showing the evolutionary relationships of species with common ancestors.  Identifying these species and creating an accurate “family tree” is important for reef resource managers. Reef biodiversity, as a measure of ecosystem health, depends on managers having an accurate census of corals and their associated organisms. To make informed decisions for reef protection, resource managers need to understand the role of organisms in the food chain related to the reef. For example, the presence or absence of particular species might trigger fisheries management decisions. Dr. Kerr and his team are working with local reef managers in the Micronesian islands of the tropical Pacific to design management plans based on a sound understanding of biodiversity.

Dr. Alexander Kerr Dr. Kerr can be contacted at: alexander.kerr@aya.yale.edu

To read more about Dr. Kerr’s EPA STAR fellowship research:  http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/6495/report/0

For information about his current research: http://www.guammarinelab.com/alexkerr.html


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