In the Cordes lab, our research is focused on the Ecology of deep-sea ecosystems, at all levels of biological organization. We are interested in how organisms shape their environment by creating habitat heterogeneity and altering biogeochemical cycles on the seafloor. These interests touch on ecosystem level processes, patterns of community assembly, population dynamics, individual habitat preference, physiological responses to changing environments, genetic regulation of metabolic processes, and the microbial processes that govern biogeochemistry. We are also interested in the conservation of deep water habitats, and the lab has been actively investigating the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deepwater coral communities, as well as monitoring ongoing ocean acidification in the deep Gulf of Mexico. Integrating research across these disciplines has led to the development of a wide variety of capabilities in the lab (including molecular biology, classical zoological tools and microscopy, and marine aquarium systems) as well as a large network of national and international collaborators.
Our work on cold-water corals includes investigations of the habitat preferences of Lophelia pertusa, the genetic connectivity of deep-water gorgonian populations, and the potential effects of ocean acidifcation in the deep Gulf of Mexico. Cold-water corals have gained more attention in recent years due to the expansion of human activity in deeper waters, and the Deepwater Horizon incident put a renewed emphasis on the need to understand their basic biology and ecology. We are using modeling techniques, in situ sampling, and experimental examinations of the environmental factors, including carbonate chemistry, that could control L. pertusa distribution in the Gulf of Mexico. [Jay Lunden] [Sam Georgian] We are also studying the population dynamics and genetic relationships among populations of Callogorgia spp., Paramuricea spp. and other gorgonians to determine their vulnerability to anthropogenic impacts. [Andrea Quattrini] We are also beginning to investigate the genetic response of gorgonians to oil exposure through a series of experiments and transcriptomic sequencing. See the cruises page for updates on these projects.
Natural hydrocarbon seep communities have been studied for far longer than the deepwater coral ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico, and yet we continue to discover new sites and community types even in this well-mapped area of seafloor. Ongoing studies of cold seeps include the biogeographic and bathymetric patterns in tubeworm- and mussel-associated communities in the deep Gulf of Mexico, below 1000 meters water depth. The influence of tubeworm tube-hosted microbial communities on seep biogeochemistry, particularly the sulfur cycle, is being investigated through a combination of genetic sequencing and fluorescent in situ hybridization techniques. We have also obtained a series of community collections from the seeps on the Pacific margin of Costa Rica and the hydrothermal vents of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, and are investigating the ecology and biogeography of these systems in the global context.