Coral Research

CoralCoral reefs worldwide are in decline. The dramatic rise in incidences of coral disease over the last two decades has been instrumental in this process. We have hypothesized that most of these diseases are actually opportunistic infections instigated by anthropogenic stressors. Our research is focused around understanding the interactions between the microbial world and coral reefs, and how these systems change following perturbation.

Human Research

CFWe are currently investigating the dynamics of bacteria, phage, and eukaryotic viruses in the respiratory tracts of individuals with and without Cystic Fibrosis. Characterization of viral communities coupled with microbial transcriptomics and viral metagenomics will allow a better understanding of how the unique environment of the CF airway drives microbial and viral specialization and vice versa.

Phage Outreach Program

Phage OutreachOur mission is to interest high school students in the study of the Phage Virus and attract them to the field of science in the future. We will do this by sharing the most interesting aspects about the phage virus along with an educational foundation, a fun art contest, and an in-depth field trip. Additionally, 3-5 motivated students will be offered a summer internship at our lab researching the Phage Virus.

Media Galleries

Phage Art
Line Islands Photos
Reef Life Photos
Coral Reef Systems Videos

Where in the World

Feb 12, 2014
Forest Rohwer - Figure1

Biology professor Forest Rohwer defied Arctic climes to seek out nature's most diverse forms of life. Read the full story here.

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The Line Islands Collection

Jul 23, 2013
Forest Rohwer - Figure1
Forest Rohwer - Figure5

In the run-up to an upcoming expedition to the Southern Line Islands in fall of 2013, a collection of related articles has been launched in the open access journal PeerJ. Two of the manuscripts presented in this paper collection show the use oxygen optodes to visualize micro-scale oxygen gradients at coral-algal interfaces and for biological oxygen demand.

Another study investigates how different functional groups of benthic primary producers, like corals, calcifying-, macro- and turf- algae "culture" up different microbes and thereby alter the microbial community metabolism.

This series of studies was driven by the demand to better understand the mechanisms underlying the alterations in coral reef community compositions as a result of human disturbance. The focus hereby lies on interaction processes between the microbial community and macro-organisms, like fish, coral, or algae, and on the reciprocal effects of both micro- and macro- organisms on key water parameters like oxygen, carbon, or nutrient concentrations.

The joint efforts of different laboratories specialized in multiple scientific disciplines allow for a more facetted view on the task of detecting overarching mechanisms which shape the structure of these different communities. Thanks to the opportunity provided by the newly established open-access online journal PeerJ, we can present these studies together in one confluent paper collection ( and will add further studies to the Collection arising from our continuing efforts. This new concept will enable other researchers to better conceptualize these and future findings in their broader context.

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CFRI-Funded Research Developments

Jan 28, 2013

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Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas
by Forest Rohwer
with Merry Youle
Illustrations by Derek Vosten   

Forest Rohwer - Coral BookFor millennia, coral reefs have flourished as not only one of the planet's most magnificent ecosystems, but also as its most biodiverse. However, since the 1980s the corals have been struggling. Both coral bleaching and disease have spread globally. During recent research expeditions to the remote Line Islands, microbial ecologist Forest Rohwer and his colleagues found that the large-scale changes to the reefs in recent decades are the work of the microbes as they respond to various human impacts.

Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas is the first book to recount this story, complete with introductions to the coral reef ecosystem, 21st century metagenomic research tools, and the coral's microbial and viral partners. An engaging book, its science is liberally spiced with artistic illustrations and playful stories from the research expeditions.

Download an excerpt from the book. (1.5 MB) · Purchase our book on Amazon.

Forest Rohwer, PhD

Forest RohwerBeing a marine microbial ecologist, Dr. Forest Rohwer sees a coral reef as a finely-tuned community in which the microbes and viruses are major players. Recognizing their importance, he pioneered the use of metagenomics as a means to characterize these previously inscrutable organisms and to investigate their role in coral reef health and disease.

For his scientific contributions, he has received numerous awards including the prestigious Young Investigators Award of the International Society of Microbial Ecology and the Marine Microbiology Initiative Investigator Award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Linda Wegley-Kelly, PhD

Linda Wegley-KellyDrs. Wegley-Kelly and Rohwer have been working together since 2001. She has directed research projects on everything from fluorescent-labeled phage to large-scale metagenomic from deep mines, salterns, and coral reefs to ammonium oxidizing Archaea.

Linda's research group mostly works on coral-associated microbes. She uses a combination of large-scale DNA sequencing (e.g., metagenomics), analytical chemistry, and microbiology to study how the coral holobiont changes in response to local and global stressors. Linda recently showed that shipwrecks cause devastating outbreaks of algal-microbial mats the kill kilometers of coral reefs in the iron-poor parts of the central Pacific.

Rohwer Lab Members

Rohwer Lab
We have a diverse group of researchers in the lab that include undergraduate volunteers, graduate students (MS & PhD), post-docs, and visiting scientists.

Join the Lab

CoralAre you intersted in joining the Rohwer Lab? Learn about research and training opportunities available in the lab. Our lab offers research and training opportunities for students (undergraduate, MS, PhD), postdocs, and scientists.