Meet the deep-sea student researchers: Nicole Morgan

Nicole B. Morgan
Florida State University, USA

I am a Ph.D. candidate with Florida State University in the lab of Dr. Amy Baco-Taylor. The work I am doing focuses on the recovery potential of deep-sea seamounts from human impacts like trawl fishing and crust mining. This is a very broad question, however, and my dissertation narrows in on three main ideas within this theme. We did an extensive photographic survey of a relatively pristine seamount with the Automated Underwater Vehicle Sentry to characterize the distribution and variability of the invertebrate community within a seamount. We found that seamount communities can be extremely variable within one feature, due in part to the microhabitats that exist within a feature, and that there is a large amount of species changeover  (beta-diversity), both as depth increases along the seamount flank and horizontally between regions within a feature. These changes could be seen over quite small scales of 100 meters of depth change. This baseline data helps better understand the intra-seamount variability of benthic communities, as well as the level of surveying necessary to fully characterize communities that would be lost from new human impacts. This work can be found at:

I am also using population genetics to quantify the possible connectivity of deep-sea corals along seamounts. I am focused on precious corals Hemicorallium laauense and Pleurocorallium secundum  within the Emperor Seamounts and Northwest Hawai’ian Islands (NWHI). These corals were extensively harvested from the Emperor Seamounts and the very edge of the NWHI by dragged tangle nets, a method similar to trawling. The corals are used to make jewellery and curios, and some coral material can be worth thousands of dollars. We were able to sample coral populations on many seamounts within this archipelago, both inside and outside of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and I am developing microsatellite loci markers to test the connectivity of the populations between the features. This data will allow better hypotheses about the possibility of protected seamounts providing source larvae to those features damaged by trawling and mining.

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