The Harvell Lab has varied research interests ranging from marine invertebrate biology and diversity to climate change and its impacts on disease ecology. Here’s an overview of our lab’s research – click on the titles for a more in-depth description of those research interests and projects.
Lab publications can be found here.
Coral Reef and Seagrass Health & Sustainability
Coastal ecosystems are among the most important for humankind, as sources of food, protection, medication, and recreation for nearby communities. However, heavy resource use, indirect, and direct habitat damage threaten vital nearshore ecosystems like coral reefs and seagrass beds. Here we investigate the link between human and ecosystem health – how seagrasses can temper human and wildlife pathogens and sewage pollution and how both coral and human health may be threatened by land-based pollution entering coastal waters. Coral disease has been recognized as a significant driver of coral decline, and wasting disease of seagrass may also be a major factor in some instances of eelgrass decline. Managing these diseases and their influencers will be important to conserving functioning coastal ecosystems (Lamb et al. 2017).
Ocean Outbreaks and Changing Environments
Environmental conditions play an important role in diseases of many marine organisms. Our lab focuses on how corals, sea grasses, and sea stars fend off pathogens in a changing climate, and how the pathogens themselves react to different environments. Recently, we have uncovered a link between temperature anomalies and the sea star wasting disease outbreak (Eisenlord et al. 2016), linked thermal anomalies to shifting coral microbiota (Tracy et al. 2015), and developed projections for climate-induced coral disease outbreaks (Maynard et al. 2015). Ongoing research on sea grass seeks to determine the relationship between virulence and environment in the Pacific Northwest. In many cases, our work on marine disease risk factors points not only to temperature stress, but also to anthropogenic pollutants (Yoshioka et al. 2016) and demographic factors like host size (Eisenlord et al. 2016).
Finding the Living Blaschka Invertebrates
Having a large collection of Blaschka glass invertebrates at Cornell University provides us a particularly exciting opportunity to expand our lab’s work and outreach. The pieces lie at the intersection of science and art – they were primarily educational models created through sketching, watercolor, lampworking, and pigment painting. While we’d love to have artistic abilities even half the Blaschkas’, our expertise is in natural history, and we’ve made it one of our lab missions to find the living counterparts of the Blaschka invertebrates. We hope to highlight the diversity of our modern seas and those of the Blaschkas, and also use the pieces as a lens for non-scientists to appreciate the marine environment. Drew has teamed up with Cornell alumnus David O. Brown, a videographer, to capture these creatures with film and photography, culminating in her book, A Sea of Glass, and David’s film Fragile Legacy. Reyn also joined the effort by researching the species the Blaschka pieces represent and providing photos of his own.