Distributions in the Environment
As heterotrophs and mixotrophs abundant in nano- and microplankton, ciliates are affected by diverse biotic interactions and physical-chemical factors. To explore the reciprocal relationships between ciliates and the ecosystem, I have tracked these protists across various environments.
Long Island Sound
Quantification of microbe distributions help us evaluate ecosystem health.
In cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, we monitor ciliates and other microbes along the eutrophication gradient of Long Island Sound. We are now studying how seasonal hypoxia and changes in temperature and pH affect the structure of microbial communities.
New England Shelf
Understanding the factors that control microbial diversity and biogeography is key to predict how these organisms may respond to changing conditions.
Surveying a gradient from coastal to oceanic waters off New England, we have found that environmental selection (mainly prey availability) is key in structuring ciliate assemblages. Coast-versus-ocean distribution patterns are explained by food partitioning locally, but are also influenced by salinity and climate globally (Refs. 21, 26).
South Atlantic and Southern Oceans
My Ph.D. dissertation and part of my postdoctoral training focused on characterizing ciliate diversity, abundance and relationships with biotic and abiotic factors, all the way from Buenos Aires to Antarctica. This was an ideal scenario to prove the strong influence of oceanographic fronts and currents on the distribution of ciliate species (Refs. 3, 4, 6, 7).