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BARBADOS - Tropical Marine Ecology Group


Caribbean diving photographs compliments of Dr Karen Cheney, click to enter site

Research in the Tropical Marine Ecology Group ranges broadly from pure behavioural ecology to applied ecology and conservation problems. Most of our work focuses on organisms living in or issues pertaining to tropical coastal ecosystems, particularly coral reefs in the Caribbean. Although we mainly do empirical, field-based research, we often combine this with theory development, within the group or through collaborations

Applied Research

Caribbean diving photographs compliments of Dr Karen Cheney, click to enter site In the Tropical Marine Ecology Group, we tackle two types of applied projects: species-specific studies with a strong behavioural ecology component, and broad-scale ecological questions. An example of the former is an on-going study of the impacts of hermaphroditism on the response of groupers and parrotfishes to exploitation.

Several of the broad-scale problems we are currently addressing are linked to the impacts of climate change on tropical coastal ecosystems. These include gauging the effects of sea-level rise on beach habitat and knock-on effects for sea-turtle populations and examining impacts of climate change on the biodiversity of UK Overseas Territories.

We also have a special interest in tropical marine protected areas, particularly in how their effectiveness is affected by the fish community composition within their boundaries, their design and the structure of institutions that manage them.

Behavioural Research

Caribbean diving photographs compliments of Dr Karen Cheney, click to enter siteThe pure behavioural ecology research in the group has centred for the past few years on the evolution and ecology of cleaning symbioses among fishes. These ubiquitous interactions involve a small fish (the cleaner) which removes ectoparasites and other materials from the body of a large, co-operating fish (the client).

In the Caribbean, cleanerfish are mainly cleaning gobies (genus Elacatinus). We are using a two-pronged approach to the study of Caribbean cleaning symbioses: to elucidate the social structure and behaviour of the gobies themselves, and to understand their interactions with one client in particular, the longfin damselfish.

We have used the Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados as a base for much of this work, although we have also worked at the CARMABI Foundation in Curaçao and at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab in Jamaica.

We are now expanding our study of cleaning symbioses to the Indo-Pacific where cleaner wrasses are the main cleanerfish. The most recent studies, carried out in Indonesia and Guam, focus mainly on cleanerfish mimics and how these affect the interactions between cleanerfish and their clients.

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