April 28, 2015

Whitney N. Yarber, Communications Specialist

VSU’s Dr. Timothy Henkel Co-Authors New Research on Endangered Reef-Building Corals

Dr. Timothy Henkel

VALDOSTA – Valdosta State University’s Dr. Timothy Henkel, assistant professor of marine biology, recently worked with a research team to investigate the impact of overfishing and cascading effects on coral and sponge populations.

Headed by Dr. Joseph Pawlik at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the research team visited 69 sites and surveyed reefs from 12 countries across the Caribbean, where they discovered that overfishing removes the predators of sponges, greatly increasing the threat of fast-growing sponges to an already diminished population of corals.

The team selected sites throughout the Caribbean based on locations that met two criteria; locations had both sites that are historically overfished, and sites that are protected from fishing efforts.

“We found that where sponges are no longer controlled by their predators, the populations of fast growing sponge species are increased, resulting in increased contact and overgrowth of corals,” said Henkel.

Coral reefs are of critical importance for both shoreline protection and fishery habitat. The United States government, as well as the World Conservation Union (WCU), have taken action to include some of these species under the Endangered Species Act and the WCU’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Additionally, the study provides an important validation of ecosystem theory at the community level, with clear indirect effects of overfishing resulting in greater competition between sponges and corals across a broad geographic region.

According to Henkel, “This study has important implications for conservation and management of our endangered coral reefs, and ties together 25 years of research on sponge populations in the Caribbean.”

Working primarily with marine invertebrates on Caribbean coral reefs, Henkel is interested in the biotic and abiotic factors that structure marine communities.

As part of his research, Henkel investigates species-specific interactions in the marine environment. Such interactions have long been recognized as important means of speciation in terrestrial systems. Examination of species-specific interactions can provide insight into the evolutionary forces that drive speciation in marine systems.

Henkel earned a doctorate in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2008. He has produced over a dozen academic publications throughout his career as a biologist and professor. Henkel’s research program uses a variety of field and lab techniques to examine competition, predation, and facilitation under ecologically relevant conditions.

Dr. Timothy Henkel can be contacted at tphenkel@valdosta.edu or (229) 249-4941 for more information.

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Valdosta State University’s 2013-2019 Strategic Plan represents a renewal of energy and commitment to the foundational principles for comprehensive institutions.

Implementation of the plan’s five goals, along with their accompanying objectives and strategies, supports VSU’s institutional mission and the University System of Georgia’s mission for comprehensive universities.

The story above demonstrates VSU's commitment to meeting the following goals:

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