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Oceaneering ROV Global Explorer

Cryptic Biodiversity of Mesophotic Reefs

The cryptobenthos of mesophotic coral reefs is an incredibly diverse community of invertebrates that has yet to be described in the Gulf of Mexico. Studying these communities is challenging as scuba diving has limited bottom time at mesophotic depths and ROV video fails to capture all benthic organisms due to their small size.


My Ph.D. research will focus on using Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) to characterize cryptic biodiversity and population connectivity of mesophotic coral reefs within Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS), and determine how they are connected and the environmental factors that drive biodiversity hot spots. This project is funded by NOAA and is in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.


Biology of Active Off-axis Hydrothermal Vents

An active off-axis hydrothermal vent field was recently discovered 750m east of the East Pacific Rise Axis at 9º 50'N. This vent field in particular is thought to have avoided lava flow from the 2005-2006 eruption, thus serving as a possible source of larvae to recovering on-axis vents. 

Through future investigations, we aim to characterize the biological communities at YBW-Sentry and determine the role of active off-axis vent fields in metacommunity dynamics. I have also deployed ARMS throughout the East Pacific Rise Axis to test if the ARMS metabarcoding approach is consistent with and/or complimentary to the successful Mullineaux sandwich method in characterizing hydrothermal vent metacommunity dynamics.

Copyright: Schmidt Ocean Institute (Health Diagnostics of Deep-Sea Coral)

Future Interests:
Octocoral Reproductive and Larval Biology

I am also excited about utilizing molecular techniques to explore the genetic aspects of mesophotic and deep-sea octocoral reproduction and larval behavior. Currently, only limited information is available regarding the reproductive biology of corals, making further investigations vital. Understanding these processes is essential for describing population dynamics, assessing vulnerability to human-induced disturbances, and evaluating recovery potential.


Meyer, K.S., Pittoors, N.C., Solow, A., Mullineaux, L.S. Priority effects in succession in a marine fouling community. In prep. Target journal: Ecology Letters.

Herrera, S., Chadwick, W.W., Jackson, M.G., Konter, J., McCartin, L., Pittoors, N., Bushta, E., Merle, S.G. 2023. From basalt to biosphere: Early non-vent community succession on the erupting Vailulu'u deep seamount. FMARS. 10. DOI:


McDermort, J.M., Parnell-Turner, R., Barreyre, T., Herrera, S., Downing, C., Pittoors, N.C., Pehr, K., Vohsen, S.A., Dowd, W.S., Wu, J., Marjanoic, M., Fornari, D. 2022. Discovery of active off-axis vents at 9º 54’N East Pacific Rise. PNAS. 119. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2205602119


Maciejewski, M.F., Meyer, K.S., Wheeler, J.D., Anderson, E.J., Pittoors, N.C., Mullineaux, L.S. 2019. Helical swimming as an exploratory behavior in competent larvae of the eastern oyster larvae (Crassostrea virginica). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol. 510: 86-94. DOI: 10.1016/j.jembe.2018.10.007

Research Expeditions

2023 R/V Falkor (too). ROV SuBastian. FKt230417. Health Diagnostics of Deep-Sea Corals. Puerto Rico. 19 days.

2023 R/V Atlantis. HOV AlvinAUV Sentry. AT50-07. Lava watch 2023. East Pacific Rise 9º 50’N, Pacific Ocean. 29 days. Starboard observer on HOV Alvin dive AL5147.


2021 R/V Point Sur. ROV Global Explorer. ConnectivitY of CoraL Ecosystems (CYCLE). U.S. Gulf of Mexico. 13 Days.


2021 R/V Roger Revelle. ROV Jason. AUV Sentry. RR2102: Hydrothermal vent fluid chemistry, functional diversity, and biofilms. East Pacific Rise 9º 50’N, Pacific Ocean. 39 days.

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