Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Knowlton, Nancy
Location Smithsonian Institution
Primary Field Environmental Sciences and Ecology
Secondary Field Evolutionary Biology
 Election Citation
Knowlton's research defines contemporary coral reef biology. Her revolutionary studies of reef bleaching and speciation provide fundamental insights into differentiation and mutualism. Her work has revealed new, unexpected levels of diversity in the marine microbial environment. She is a leader in linking reef basic research to effective conservation.
 Research Interests
Nancy Knowlton has devoted her research career to understanding the diversity of life in the ocean, particularly on coral reefs. Her work has spanned the fields of behavior, ecology, conservation, systematics, and evolution, studying organisms as diverse as microbes, corals and crustaceans. Work on the responses of reefs to major disturbances illustrated that such ecosystems might have alternative stable states, a finding of significance to reef conservation. The tools of molecular genetics have been regularly employed in her laboratory to distinguish and compare organisms that are difficult to characterize using traditional methods. These approaches have led to the realization that many so-called species are actually large complexes of cryptic species that are reproductively isolated. Work showing that the microscopic algae living in coral tissue differ in their sensitivity to temperature has had important implications for predicting the response of coral reefs to global warming. Her studies of coral evolutionary relationships showed that the majority of traditional families needed to be revised and redefined. Most recently, she has pioneered the use of DNA bar-coding and next-generation sequencing, coupled with standardized sampling protocols, to determine how many species live on coral reefs.

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