Project Title

IRES Track II: Systems-based Transdisciplinary Approaches to Coral Reef Science and Conservation

Principal Investigator/Project Director

Lauren Nadler

List of Collaborators

Tyler Cyronak

Colleges / Centers

Halmos College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences


National Science Foundation

Start Date


End Date



We propose three, 21-day Advanced Science Institutes (ASI; IRES Track II) at locations in far north Queensland, Australia, immersing US-based graduate students annually in a transdisciplinary, systems and research-based learning experience using coral reefs as a model ecosystem. Students will first learn about socio-ecological resilience and anthropogenic impacts on natural systems at the School for Field Studies (SFS), Centre for Rainforest Studies (CRS) in the Atherton Tablelands (7 days), the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet (Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef). The group will then travel to the Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS), a state-of-the-art, island-based research facility in the northern Great Barrier Reef (14 days), where students will learn from and be guided through independent research projects by a diverse group of American and Australian coral reef scientists:

  • American: Dr. Lauren Nadler (PI, Nova Southeastern University, NSU), Dr. Tyler Cyronak (Co-PI, NSU), Dr. Cynthia Silveira (University of Miami), Dr. Phil Bresnahan (University of North Carolina, Wilmington), Dr. Sarah Davies (Boston University)
  • Australian: Dr. Anne Hoggett (LIRS), Dr. David Tng (CRS), Dr. Morgan Pratchett (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies), Dr. Michele Barnes (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies), Dr. Bradley Eyre (Southern Cross University), Dr. Sophie Dove (University of Queensland)

These ASIs will help to address the current shortage in transdisciplinary researchers equipped to deal with the problems facing coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Applications will be solicited from graduate students across the US, using direct email to PIs/researchers, student email listservs, and social media, with a key priority to recruit students from traditionally underrepresented groups (women, persons with disabilities, and minorities). This goal will be achieved by working with the NSU Inclusion and Diversity Council and organizations promoting minority serving institutions across the US.

Intellectual Merit

Tropical coral reef ecosystems and the communities that depend on them face unprecedented pressure from climate change and other anthropogenic stressors. Proactive management and novel techniques are urgently needed to counteract the degradation of these ecosystems. Cross-disciplinary training and collaboration is key to the success of coral reef science and conservation efforts. However, US-based graduate students are typically only trained in concepts, methodologies, and research tools that are directly related to their graduate research projects. These ASI workshops will develop a systems-based approach to target student training in a range of disciplines related to coral reef science and conservation. Students will have the unique opportunity to interact with experts in a range of fields, including, but not limited to, ecology, biogeochemistry, physiology, animal behavior, molecular biology, and environmental social science. Through lectures, class work, field immersions, and independent projects, these ASIs will engage students in hands-on research that fosters a transdisciplinary understanding of coral reef ecosystems. This pioneering program will teach students how holistic approaches are critical to addressing human impacts on ecosystems while preparing them to address the next big-picture scientific problems.

Broader Impacts

These ASIs will address specific and measurable societal needs by improving the quality of STEM education for US-based, marine science graduate students. We aim to develop a globally competitive workforce able to address pressing environmental challenges by expanding the breadth of knowledge and skill set of STEM graduates and, ultimately, enhancing the science and technology available to inform public environmental policy. Societal outcomes will be fulfilled by training 30 marine-science graduate students over three years from US-based STEM programs in this unique educational format, at least 50% of which will originate from traditionally underrepresented groups. The international location will provide valuable networking and professional development, broadening the students´ career opportunities. The project products will include student blogs, a yearly virtual and public research symposium, a detailed syllabus and handbook, and data on strategies to achieve effective coral reef science education. These projects will be showcased on the ASI’s website and communicated to the higher education community through presentations at academic conferences and publications in journals dedicated to higher and science education. By meeting these goals, we will increase the competitiveness of American STEM education programs in the international market, foster international partnerships in research and education between the US and Australia, and enhance the American workforce in STEM industry, agency, and academia.

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