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Past Winner
2018 NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Department of Biology

University of Victoria

Despite covering only one percent of the ocean’s surface, coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine life. They provide food for hundreds of millions of people, help protect islands and shorelines from the worst effects of hurricanes and erosion caused by waves, and are worth $36 billion annually in tourism revenue. But rising temperatures are now ravaging coral reefs, threatening the existence of these important ecosystems.

Julia Baum, a researcher at the University of Victoria, combines big data analysis with fieldwork on one of the world’s most remote coral reefs to study the consequences of climate change and other stressors on our oceans. She and her team analyze a range of data covering large time periods and geographic areas to develop a clear understanding of how human disturbances are changing the structure, diversity, and function of marine ecosystems.

Since 2009, Baum has focused her efforts on Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, at the equator. This coral atoll bore the brunt of a brutal heat wave brought on by the 2015-2016 El Nino, resulting in 90% of the corals dying. Using a wealth of data from before, during, and after the El Nino, Baum is charting the impacts of spiking temperatures on corals right down to their algae and microbes. This is helping her to discern the means by which the most resilient coral species are able to tolerate the extreme temperatures. Baum is also tracking how well these corals and the ecosystems they support are recovering after the extreme heat, and identifying potential predictors of recovery, such as the diversity of fish populations.

Baum’s previous research resulted in ground-breaking discoveries about the impacts of commercial fishing on shark populations, the cascading food web effects of the loss of these apex predators, and the recovery dynamics of overfished marine populations. These discoveries spurred serious shark conservation efforts by international trade and conservation groups. With her work on coral reefs, she aims to provide similar guidance for conserving these vitally important ecosystems.

Julia Baum
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