Research interests

Hard shore community ecology: Herbivore behaviour; Epilithic biofilms; Epiphytes; Plant-animal interactions in the

Littorinid biology
Research for my Ph.D investigated the niche partitioning of two
species of epiphytic flat periwinkles: Littorina obtusata and
L. mariae (= L. fabalis
). This project involved many aspects of
the ecology of these two species and their host algae and was
conducted on the shores of S. West UK. This research stimulated
an interest in epiphytic grazing (L. mariae, the low shore species
browses epiphytes off the surface of the alga Fucus serratus
which is host not only to the winkle but to a dense assemblage of
sessile invertebrates) and its role in the structuring of low shore
communities. To further this work, I was awarded a competitive
Fellowship from the N.E.R.C. to pursue this field at Port Erin Marine
Laboratory, The University of Liverpool.

Tropical intertidal ecology
Hong Kong falls just within the tropics and, surprisingly, little is known about
intertidal ecology in the tropics and especially SE Asia. As a result, my
research has often had quite a broad focus, investigation a variety of habitats
such as mangroves and sandy shores, but with a focus on rocky shores.
Species investigated range from epilithic cyanobacteria to mudskippers,
macroalgae to soldier crabs and mosquitos to Bamboo-sharks, but again
with an overall emphasis on rocky shore molluscan grazers. My work in
Hong Kong has benefitted by a great team of postgraduate students and an
international network of collaborators, all of whom have played a major role
in my research and made it so much more enjoyable!

In Hong Kong, initial work focused on measuring species distribution
patterns and the factors responsible for structuring intertidal communities on
rocky shores. Most of this work has concentrated around the east coast of
Hong Kong and especially the shores surrounding The Swire Institute of
Marine Science (which since 1996 is Hong Kong's only Marine Reserve).
Hong Kong experiences a strongly seasonal monsoonal climate, with mild,
almost temperate, winters and hot tropical summers. This seasonal
environment plays a major role in determining community structure and work
by my postgraduates has shown that many species flourish during the winter
to suffer heavy mortality in the summer. This is reflected in species having
very short life-histories and rapid turnover rates.

Algal-herbivore interactions
Early work focused on algal-herbivore dynamics, investigating the controlling role of molluscan herbivores on the
cyanobacteria dominated epilithic biofilm. This work involved quantification of the distribution and behavioural patterns of
the grazers and species composition and seasonal variation in the biofilm. Manipulative experiments revealed the role of
grazers in controlling algal distribution, but most importantly the interaction of these biotic factors with seasonal changes in
the physical environment. Harsh physical stress during the summer had an overall controlling effect, limiting grazer numbers
and distribution and therefore severely restricting the importance of grazers on the shore.

Physiological; and behavioural responses to thermal stress
Subsequent work has focused on the role physical stresses on community dynamics, with an emphasis on limpets. Using a
variety of field and laboratory approaches we have been measuring physiological responses (body temperatures, heart
rate, haemolymph and mantle water osmolality) to a variety of natural (on the shore or simulated in the laboratory) stresses
but primarily heat stress and monsoon rains. Some species are amazingly tolerant and exhibit a great variety of behavioural
and physiological adaptations to heat stress, whereas others are more susceptible, and cope with heavy mortality during
the summer by being very resilient and having short life cycles.

Current research interests
This work has lead to larger scale investigations into species distribution and latitudinal responses to thermal stress.
Identifying species distribution ranges across the NW Pacific is difficult as many 'species' are misidentified and actually
cryptic species complexes. Currently we are trying to identify these patterns, in order to correctly identify species ranges.
To tie in with this we are trying to link this with species' physiological responses, in an attempt to identify which species
may be affected by a warming climate. This work, given its scale, involves a variety of collaborators in SE Asia, as well as
Europe, S.Africa and the USA. The major goal of this work is to establish a network of collaborators who will be able to
work on large scale latitudinal investigations to answer questions of how species respond to environmental stressors and
how this may impact future community structure in rocky intertidal systems.  

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