If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?
- Albert Einstein
Sexual reproduction in marine invertebrates
Sexual reproduction, the primary process of generating new genetic lineages, is fundamental to our understanding of biodiversity, biogeography and evolution at large. Yet, as global warming and climate-change proceed ever more rapidly, organisms depending on seasonal cues to synchronize their reproduction, face an unclear future.
We are particularly interested in studying sexual reproduction of broadcast spawning marine invertebrates - from the environmental regulation of gametogenesis and spawning, through fertilization dynamics and hybridization, to gamete incompatibility and reproductive barriers.
Echinoderms as model organisms
Echinoderms comprise one of the most prominent and wide-spread groups of benthic marine invertebrates. Distributed across all of the world's oceans, from the poles to the equator and from the abyssal to intertidal depths, they constitute one of the most ecologically significant components of diverse marine environments.
Roughly comprising 7000 living species, echinoderms are the second-largest group of deuterostomes, strategically situated at the base of the evolutionary split leading to vertebrates. This unique evolutionary setup, coupled with their fundamental ecological role, turns echinoderms into primary research model organisms.
(ISF grant 2407/20)
Determining the timing and location of reproductive events in marine environments is critical for efficient management and conservation efforts. However, methods for detecting spawning occurrences are currently based on in situ observations, and as such are costly and immensely time and labor intensive. Developing a non-invasive, high throughput method to accurately determine the timing and location of reproductive activity for marine species would be extremely valuable.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) refers to DNA extracted from any type of environmental sample (e.g., water, soil, sediments or ice) and can be used to identify and quantify the species from which it originated. Here we use eDNA for the study of reproductive phenology of broadcast spawners on coral reefs. On completion, our study will provide a new set of tools for coral reef monitoring and will significantly promote our understanding of the silent threats that challenge the persistence of broadcast-spawning marine species.
Reproductive dynamics of
broadcast spawners revealed through environmental DNA
Phylogeny and evolution of edible sea urchins (Echinoidea: Camarodonta)
(FWF grant P29508-B25)
Sea urchins of the order Camarodonta are among the most important components of shallow-water marine communities. They are intensively used as models-species for developmental studies and are the prime target of a multimillion-dollar fishery. Despite of the wealth of studies on various aspects of their biology and life histories, the evolutionary history and diversification of camarodonts is poorly understood and their phylogeny remains poorly resolved.
Here we aim to decipher the origin and evolutionary history of camarodont sea urchins, based on genetic information (at the genome level), and in-depth morphological analysis. This will allow incorporation of fossil taxa with modern species in order to gain insights into camarodont radiation and identify basal crown-group members of modern families.
This research is carried out in collaboration with Dr. Andreas Kroh and Dr. Elisabeth Haring from the Natural History Museum Vienna (WNHM), Austria, and is sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
Creating biological baselines and monitoring protocols for marine reserves in the Israeli Mediterranean Sea
(NPA/Yad Hanadiv grant 10699)
Comprehensive biological baselines are fundamental for the development of robust monitoring programs that facilitate effective management. In particular, accurate assessment of biodiversity is an essential component in designing marine protected areas and maintaining ecosystem function. As the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) aim to establish a network of large marine reserves in at least 20% of the Israeli Mediterranean, and as deterioration of coastal marine environments is proceeding ever more rapidly, the need for comprehensive baseline data on which to build an effective monitoring program, is greater than ever before.
Here we aim to generate biological baselines for the marine nature reserves along the Israeli Mediterranean and design effective monitoring protocols. Selected taxa, from a wide range of trophic levels, are being tested for their suitability to serve as sensitive, long-term, and cost effective monitoring proxies.