Dr. Brigitte Sommer
University of Sydney Postdoctoral Fellow
School of Life and Environmental Sciences
The University of Sydney
Room 148 Edgeworth David Building
NSW 2006, Australia
If you wanted to label the work I do, I guess you would call me a ‘molecular ecologist’. I have written a book on the subject anyways (An Introduction to Molecular Ecology – 3rd Edition. Rowe, Sweet and Beebee). I am particularly interested in diseases and the majority of my work has been on corals as the host organism but I have studied sponges, urchins, frogs and fish as well. More recently my attention has moved onto the importance of the microbiome in coral health and how (or even, if) these host-associated microbiota can aid corals in their fight against climate change. To do this, we assess shifts in the microbiome of healthy and stressed corals (via means of histology and next generation sequencing for example) with the effects observed on the host (visual appearance, transcriptomics, metabolomics, proteomics etc). Combined with detailed bioinformatics and downstream analysis we can then understand how individual microbes react with others in their community - under various scenarios. The overall goal is to explore the function of these microbes and what they do for the coral and importantly what happens to the coral if these networks/interactions break down.
My research combines field ecology and statistical modelling to investigate the ecology of marine species living in extreme environments and how they will be affected by climate change. During my PhD (completed in 2015) in Prof. John Pandolfi’s Lab at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland (UQ) and subsequent Postdocs at UQ (2016) and the University of Leeds (2017) I used trait-based, phylogenetic community ecology and species distribution modelling approaches to study the ecology of corals at their high-latitude range limits in the tropical-to-temperate transition zones in Australia and Japan (in collaboration with the University of the Ryukus).
In 2018, I was awarded a three-year Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Sydney to continue this work and build an ecosystem understanding of biogeographic transition zones as they are being transformed by changes in species distributions and interactions in response to warming. I am also involved in 3D mapping work from coral colony to reef scale to understand how complex marine ecosystems function and how they respond to environmental change. My role in CORALASSIST is to help understand the resource trade-offs between increased thermotolerance and other fitness traits in corals, using state-of-the art 3D mapping and modelling techniques to monitor coral growth of tagged individuals within selected coral populations in Palau.