Faculty News

Collaborating on Coral Reefs

Faculty members Dr. Katie Montovan and Dr. Betsy Sherman have undertaken coral reef biology research. The pair recently published the paper "Modeling Alternative Stable States in Caribbean Coral Reefs" in the journal Natural Resource Modeling.

Caribbean Coral Reef

Montovan and Sherman are collaborating on this project with Williams College math professor Dr. Julie Blackwood. 

From "Modeling Alternative Stable States in Caribbean Coral Reefs"

"The resilience of Caribbean coral reefs, which are an important source of biodiversity and provide essential ecosystem services, is constantly challenged by many reef stressors including ocean acidification, hurricane damage, and overharvesting of herbivorous reef fish.

The presence of two alternative stable states—a desirable state with high levels of coral cover and its coral-depleted counterpart—has been widely documented in the literature. Increasing coral resilience to prevent phase shifts to the undesirable state is a critical research priority, and mathematical models can serve as an important tool to not only better understand the underlying dynamics of observed coral communities, but also to evaluate the potential impacts of stressors and the outcome of management strategies designed to promote coral persistence.

Here, we review the existing literature of mathematical models designed to understand the processes that generate alternative stable states. We focus on models that are comprised of ordinary differential equations and, at their core, capture algal–coral dynamics."