We are interested in integrating the long interest in seagrass ecology and ecosystem science with more recent work in microbiology to produce a deeper, more mechanistic understanding of the ecology and evolution of seagrasses and the coastal ecosystems which depend on them. Much of this work is done in collaboration with Jonathan Eisen. The main thrusts of this work include both ecological and evolutionary questions: How have the microbial communities associated with seagrasses coevolved with their hosts and what roles, in the past and currently, do microbes play in adaptations of plants to the marine environment? What controls the community assembly of the microbiome of Zostera marina, a model seagrass species? What role does the microbial community play in the functional ecology of Zostera marina, especially with respect to sulfur and nitrogen metabolism?
The first phase of this project is focused on the collection of microbes associated with eelgrass, Zostera marina from throughout the geographic range of Zostera. In a recent paper, we found that that the leaf microbiome is quite variable and overall scarcely distinguishable from the microbes in the surrounding water, whereas root microbiomes are similar across geographic scales and quite distinct from sediment micro biomes. Specifically, roots appear to be enriched in microbes from groups associated with sulfur metabolism. In progress work also assesses how the micro biome is affected by (and affects) eelgrass response to heat waves, local adaptation of eelgrass to environmental conditions, and eelgrass wasting disease. A recently funded project specifically targets the response of the micro biome to wasting disease and the role that microbes might play in facilitating or impeding wasting disease and corresponding seagrass decline. We are currently searching for a postdoc to assist with this work.