Ester A. Serrão collects kelp and other large brown algae, which form unique habitats known as marine forests, to identify hot spots of genetic diversity in populations and protect these vital natural resources.
© Courtesy Ester A. Serrão
Hot spots of genetic diversity in marine forests
Ester T.A. Serrão, Ph.D., studies the population genetics of marine organisms such as kelp, other large brown algae, and sea grasses, which form unique habitats known as marine forests. Through her research, she seeks to better understand the patterns and processes that influence the function and evolution of marine biodiversity at the genetic level.
Genetic diversity is an important factor in the ability of plant and animal populations to survive and adapt to changing conditions. However, in organisms that have a low capacity to migrate, such as most algae that form marine forests, this hereditary diversity is often unevenly distributed between populations in different areas and can become isolated into disconnected parcels. In such situations, a few small populations may contain the majority of a species’ gene pool, while other populations may be much larger, but genetically uniform. Protecting the genetic diversity of these species may be critical to the conservation of marine forests, which are a vital structural component of temperate marine ecosystems.
With her Pew marine fellowship, Serrão will use ecological modeling of climate-driven range shifts and genetic sampling to find genetic hot spots of hereditary diversity in cold-temperate marine forest ecosystems and to map genetically distinct populations within species. By comparing the locations of these hot spots with species range limits and predicted climate change trends, she will identify opportunities to protect these vital natural resources. Serrão will also encourage public participation through creation of an interactive website that allows scientists and citizens to contribute to ongoing global monitoring by uploading photos, observations, and data records on marine forests.
To learn more about Serrão, read her bio.
See the full list of 2017 Pew marine fellows.