John Parkinson, Ph.D.
By day, I am a staff scientist at SECORE International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to coral reef restoration research and education. By night, I am a courtesy postdoctoral researcher in the DeGennaro lab here at FIU, focusing on the cnidarian side of things. I earned my marine biology degrees from the University of Miami (B.Sc. ’09) and Penn State University (Ph.D. ’14). I specialize in coral-algal symbiosis ecology and evolution, taxonomy, molecular biology, and genomics. For more information, see my website: thelifeaquatic.net.
At their foundation, tropical coral reefs are built on delicate symbioses between corals and microscopic algae that live within their cells. As sea surface temperatures continue to rise, these associations break down more frequently, driving coral bleaching events and the loss of reef ecosystems worldwide. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, we need innovative approaches to ensure corals survive into the next century. Partnerships between nonprofits like SECORE and universities like FIU facilitate rapid discovery and implementation of novel restoration strategies.
In the DeGennaro lab, I use molecular tools to characterize heat-sensitive and heat-resilient populations of Mountainous Star Corals (Orbicella faveolata) on the island of Abaco in The Bahamas. After cross-breeding colonies from these two groups, I track the performance and genetics of their offspring. If we can establish genetic markers to identify parents that confer resilience to the next generation, we can use that information to develop a more targeted breeding program in the future. We can also start to unravel the mechanisms that determine why some coral colonies are reproductively compatible and others are not. Such fundamental insights into coral biology are needed to improve SECORE’s larval propagation interventions.