What is CiguaPIRE?

Linking the chemical and biological diversity of epiphytic dinoflagellates in tropical oceans: Advancing global understanding on the origin of ciguatera.

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What is Pire?


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Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) is a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that funds international research and educational activities across all NSF-supported disciplines. The primary goal of PIRE is to support high quality projects in which advances in research and education could not occur without international collaboration. PIRE promotes excellence in science and engineering through international collaboration and facilitates development of a diverse, globally-engaged, U.S. science and engineering workforce.

What are Benthic HABs?


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Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when algae grow out of control and have harmful effects on the shellfish, fish, mammals, and birds associated with the aquatic environment the bloom occurs in. Some of the algae that produce HABs also produce toxins that detrimentally impact organisms that use the water in which they grow. Toxic effects can also impact humans and when they do, they can be very debilitating. Not all of the algae that bloom are those that living in the water column as members of the plankton (e.g., Karenia brevis, the dinoflagellate that causes “red tides” in the Gulf of Mexico). In fact, some HAB species live in the benthos (or, bottom) region of the water column and can grow on various benthic substrates including sediment, coral, macroalgae, and/or seagrasses. These species are referred to as Benthic HABs.

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Our Research


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Research Goal 1

Evaluate epiphyte and Gambierdiscus community diversity and macrophyte host selectivity across spatio-temporal scales and environmental gradients in coral reef ecosystems

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Research Goal 2

Characterize the meta-metabolome of these communities, structurally elucidate key metabolites, and develop methods to evaluate their toxicity and functional role

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Research Goal 3

Evaluate epiphyte and Gambierdiscus community diversity and macrophyte host selectivity across spatio-temporal scales and environmental gradients in coral reef ecosystems

General Overview

Coral reef ecosystems are among the most biodiverse habitats on earth, providing ecosystem services and fishery resources critical to coastal communities. A significant threat to utilizing this resource is ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP), which is estimated to affect more than 10% of island populations globally, and is the most prevalent non-bacterial seafood illness worldwide. Ciguatoxins (CTXs) are produced by toxigenic phenotypes of the benthic dinoflagellate Gambierdiscus (i.e., super-bugs) and enter reef food webs via herbivorous grazing on macroalgal substrates. Mechanisms and identification of toxins are largely unknown, but their elucidation is critical to the development of monitoring approaches for public health protection. The central hypothesis of this PIRE program is that toxigenic benthic dinoflagellates produce a stable meta-metabolome allowing them to prosper in an otherwise unstable environment driven by shifts in the epiphytic flora, available substrates, and environmental conditions. Moreover, the stability and advantages gained in this meta-metabolome are universal across toxigenic genera and applicable to many (sub)tropical reef environments.

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Education


Education Goal 1

Expose students to the importance of multidisciplinary and collaborative research through graduate student exchange program and methods harmonization workshops

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Education Goal 2

Transform marine education within and across departments and institutions by broadening the involvement of researchers and other participants from underrepresented groups

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Education Goal 3

Develop engaging and informative information to integrate into science curricula

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Overview

The educational component of this project includes five elements that cross multiple levels of education and training initiative engaging on a regional, US-wide, and International level:

  1. K-12 educational enrichment through development of classroom activities, and development of displays at museums, aquariums, and visitor centers
  2. Teacher workshops to bring truly integrated STEM activities to the classroom using the ‘train the trainer’ model
  3. Undergraduate US training and international field class opportunity
  4. Reciprocal graduate exchange program
  5. Methods harmonization workshop.
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Alison Robertson, Ph.D.

University of South Alabama
Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Mobile, AL, USA

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Mindy L. Richlen, Ph.D.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Woodshole, MA, USA

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Deana Erdner, Ph.D.

UT Marine Institute
Port Aransas, TX, USA

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Michael L. Parsons, Ph.D

Florida Gulf Coast University
Fort Myers, FL, USA

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Tyler B. Smith, Ph.D

University of the Virgin Islands
St. Thomas, USVI, USA

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Donald M. Anderson, Ph.D

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Woodshole, MA, USA

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Kenneth Heck, Ph.D

Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Dauphin Island, AL, USA

Carlos Alonso Hernandez, CEAC/CITMA

Silvio Uhlig, NVI

Ingunn A. Samdal, NVI

Christiane K. Faste, NVI

Frode Rise, Univ Oslo

Leo Lai Chan, City U

Jiajun Wu, SKLMP & City U

Angela Capper, HWU-ICIT

Kathryn McMahon, ECU

Paul Lavery, ECU

Megan Huggett, Newcastle University

Pearse McCarron, NRCC

Christopher Miles, NRCC

Andrew Turner, CEFAS

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Carla Curran, Ph.D

Broader Impacts, LLC

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Elizabeth Day-Miller

Bridgewater Education Consulting, LLC
Bridgewater, VA

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Tina Miller-Way, Ph.D.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Dauphin Island, AL, USA

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Laura Frost, Ph.D.

Florida Gulf Coast University
Fort Myers, FL, USA

University of South Alabama
Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Florida Gulf Coast University
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
University of the Virgin Islands
The University of Texas Marine Science Institute
Centro de Estudios Ambientales de Cienfuegos
Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment of Cuba
National Research Council Canada
Heriot-Watt University
Newcastle University
The University of Oslo
Norwegian Veterinarian Institute
City University of Hong Kong
Heriot-Watt University
Edith Cowen University
International Center for Island Technology
State Key Laboratory in Marine Pollution