Ecological interactions are inherently context-dependent, a context defined by the environment. My work focuses on understanding the influence of environmental variability on ecological interactions and how this can inform predictive frameworks.
Recent research has shown how local biological processes can dominate pH variability - including exacerbating atmospheric CO2-driven ocean acidification. This means the temporal and spatial structure of productivity and respiration/decomposition is a key factor determining the pH experienced by aquatic organisms, and even governing long-term pH changes. As a postdoc I am exploring the how and when of biological regulation of seawater carbonate chemistry. By comparing the change of pH over time (hours to day/night) to changes in dissolved oxygen, physical environmental characteristics and local community composition, I can determine the factors controlling local seawater chemistry. In tide pools and the estuaries around Washington state, biology drove most of the variation of pH - but how common is this?
I will take the same measurements in a range of habitats dominated by macrophytes (seagrass and seaweed) to reef-building animals (oysters and coral) in polar (western Antarctic Peninsula), tropical (Panama, Belize), subtropical (Florida, Texas), and temperate zones (coastal mid-Atlantic, eastern Pacific Ocean). I have developed methods to quickly replicate observations within an ecosystem - reach out if you are interested in teaming up your work on biodiversity and community composition with this work on ecosystem function!
My dissertation research used a combination of in situ manipulative experiments, trophic biomarkers and environmental monitoring to understand the influence of autotrophic foundation species on benthic suspension-feeders under differing environmental conditions. In other words I studied oysters, and how they are affected by eelgrass under a changing environment (Lowe et al. 2018). Ongoing projects are investigating the interplay of nutritional condition and environmental stressors on native and non-native species of oysters (Ostrea lurida and Crassostrea gigas, respectively). I will combine measurements of environmental parameters including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and pH (Horwith and Lowe, in prep) with morphological and physiological (fatty acid composition) analyses of oyster performance. Stay tuned for updates!
I am also leading research on the role of red sea urchins in connecting kelp production to benthic ecosystems in Washington. We recently discovered red urchins at 950 feet below the surface! That's 890 feet below their preferred food source - so what are they doing there?! I'm trying to figure that out.
See the collaborations page for other ongoing projects!