Scientific Diving Success Story: Kira Turnham

Kira Turnham is currently working on her Ph.D. in Biology in the Eberly College of Science. While pursing her B.S. at New Mexico State University, Kira worked in Dr. Michele Nishiguchi’s symbiosis lab and collected squid and their bioluminescent bacterial symbionts to study their regional phylogeography in the Philippines. For her Ph. D. dissertation, she is studying coral symbioses at Penn State University in Dr. Todd LaJeunesse’s laboratory. Kira, along with collaborators at the University of Delaware and University of Alabama at Birmingham, is reseraching corals that occur along a steep environmental gradient in Palau where inshore corals are thriving well above their estimated upper thermal thresholds. Inshore corals have coevolved with thermally tolerant symbiont native to the region Durusdinium trenchii. This symbiont does (rarely) occur in offshore corals. Even trace amounts of D. trenchii can eventually displace dominant symbiont populations during periods of severe environmental stress, ultimately resulting in increased colony survivorship. Kira's reserach goal is to quantify the prevalence of D. trenchii in offshore corals and also along the gradient to assess correlation with prevailing environmental conditions.

Data produced by these experiments will be used to improve ecological modeling of coral symbiosis partnerships in response to climate change. Furthermore, these data will inform management; as the ocean warms, identifying and protecting areas and species with the highest chance of survival must be a primary focus.

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