Don Behringer Faculty member, Fisheries/Aquatic Science University of Florida, Gainesville
Advisory Board member
Primary COSEE Affiliation:
- Gulf of Mexico
Background with Respect to Ocean Sciences Education:
Dr. Don Behringer’s research is focused on near shore marine and estuarine environments where he studies the impact of anthropogenically-driven environmental changes on benthic populations and communities. The emergence and impact of disease on aquatic organisms is receiving increased attention and Dr. Behringer’s current research involves the dynamics of a lethal pathogen that infects Caribbean spiny lobsters and the effect of ecosystem change on disease epidemiology. This work is centered on PaV1, an irido-like virus that he and colleagues at Old Dominion University and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science discovered in 1999. It is the first naturally-occurring virus found in any lobster. The goal is to determine how anthropogenically-driven changes in environmental conditions, coupled with ontogenetic-changes in host behavior and disease susceptibility, generate the pattern of infection prevalence and distribution observed in the Florida Keys. One remarkable early result was a discovery that healthy lobsters are able to detect and avoid diseased lobsters – potentially limiting transmission in the wild. This is the first discovery of such a behavior and it stands to change our perceptions regarding the role of behavior in the transmission of disease in social animals. In 2008, work will begin to determine if current fishery practices affect the distribution and prevalence of PaV1 and the role that PaV1 may have in the recent downturn in Florida fishery landings. Lobsters are ubiquitous inhabitants of coral reefs, which are also under assault from human impacts and environmental changes. Dr. Behringer and colleagues are using aerial surveys to determine vessel-use patterns and activities along the southeast Florida coral reef tract. Initial results from these surveys will be used to establish reef research sites offshore of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. The concurrent aerial surveys and in-water research is aimed at determining if use patterns and activities correlate with observed reef impacts and how recovery rates relate to injury rates. This type of information is critical in promoting informed management decisions targeted at conserving imperiled reef resources. Dr. Behringer is also interested in the influence of enhancement, restoration, and conservation efforts on populations and communities. The use of artificial enhancement mechanisms to maximize animal abundances is widespread and while most investigators have studied the efficacy of the mechanism, the effect of habitat enhancement on the processes creating such patterns is greatly understudied.