Ecological genomics, transcriptomics & epigenomics of adaptation, response to environmental change, transgenerational inheritance, and environmental effects on behaviour and the brain in marine organisms.
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever
Jacques Yves Cousteau
Effects of Climate Change
How do organisms deal with the rapid change in the environment? What is the effect of climate change on marine organisms?
How do organisms already live in e.g. acidic environments?
Transgenerational & Parental Effects
Organisms react to their environment. Do they then pass on what they have learned to the next generation? If so, how?
We want to understand the mechanisms of parental effects and if they can help adaptation to future climate change conditions.
Behaviour & the Brain / Neurogenomics
Behaviour is often altered with a change in the surrounding environment. We want to understand how the environment can influence behaviour and how neuro-molecular states in the brain can drive this behavioural change.
© Xavier Pita
Population Connectivity & Ecological Genomics
How populations are connected or isolated is important in terms of local adaptation as well as population resilience. We study how recruitment of larvae to marine populations allows for population connectivity and investigate how isolated populations survive.
loves the Sea!
wants to understand the connection between reef fish behaviour and molecular brain response
Hong Kong's biggest afishionato
is interested in marine conservation under heavy anthropogenic disturbances by the means of molecular tools.
Technical Support & Magician!
is on the constant hunt for Northern Lights.
is interested in neurosciences and marine life. Currently working on RNA alternative splicing events in fish brains.
loves outdoor activities and a good drinking night!
is interested in marine biology, especially fish. Loves nature and its wonders.
Currently working on alternative RNA splicing in Amphiprion percula under diel CO2 cycles (orange clownfish)
This could be you! please contact me if you are interested in joining the lab.
Swire Institute of Marine Science
School of Biological Science
The University of Hong Kong
Dr. Kang Jingliang
is from China. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Aquaculture from Southwest University in 2013 and received his Ph.D in Aquatic Biology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2018. He joined our team as a postdoc in August 2019. During his Ph. D, he focused on the high-altitude adaptation analysis of Creteuchiloglanis macropterus by population genetics (RAD-seq) and RNA-seq, which is a glyptosternoid fish that inhabits in Yunnan Province and Tibet, China. Kang is interested in investigating the molecular responses of fishes to specific environments through genome scanning.
Currently, he is investigating the molecular response of coral reef fishes to living in natural CO2 seeps (lower pH) by comparing the differences in brain gene expression in fish from a CO2 seep to nearby control reefs. He aims to detect the putative genes that are related to control of the cellular responses to elevated CO2 and to provide the common but also variable molecular mechanisms among species in coping with elevated CO2.
In his free time, Kang plays basketball, swims and likes watching sports.
Dr. Lucrezia Bonzi
is from Italy. She obtained her bachelor's degree in Biology at the University of Insubria and a master in Environmental Biology from the University of Trieste, Italy. She then pursued a PhD in Bioscience at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia. During her PhD, she explored how fish respond when exposed to environmental stressors across different ontogenetic timescales. When faced with an environmental stressor, fish can use existing phenotypic plasticity to acclimate to the new conditions. Because of its relatively rapid timescale, acclimation through phenotypic plasticity, if adaptive and transgenerationally inheritable, has the potential to buffer populations against the adverse environmental changes, and provide time for genetic adaptation to occur in the longer term. Understanding transgenerational acclimation and investigating the mechanisms that regulate epigenetic inheritance is extremely important not only to understand if natural populations will be able to cope with rapidly changing environments, but also to expand our knowledge of non-genetic evolutionary mechanisms.
Currently, she is exploring the changes in microRNA expression levels due to parental thermal history in Acanthochromis polyacanthus and plans to work with zebrafish to further investigate environmentally induced epigenetic inheritance mechanisms.
In her free time, she likes communing with nature, mainly by hiking, birdwatching and traveling, but she also does not mind relaxing on the sofa with a beer and some Netflix series.
is originally from India and received her Bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Ramaiah Institute of Technology in 2017 and a Master’s in Biology from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA, in 2019. Her Master’s thesis was focused on investigating the effects of copper toxicity on alternative splicing in Daphnia. Sneha is fascinated by how organisms regulate their genome to deal with changes in the environment.
As part of her Ph.D. thesis, she is investigating the gene expression responses in the spiny damselfish to conditions of ocean acidification. Her aim is to understand the influence of parental exposure on the offsprings’ response to pH change. While changes in ocean chemistry can have short-term negative effects on fishes and other marine organisms, they have the potential to acclimate to the acidic environments across generations. Intergenerational acclimation could, therefore, have long-lasting effects on future generations enabling them to adjust to more acidic environments. During her Ph.D. Sneha hopes to better understand the transcriptomic and epigenetic basis of intergenerational acclimation. She mainly relies on bioinformatics tools and approaches in her research to analyze and interpret an organism’s response to environmental change at the molecular level.
While not in the lab she enjoys hiking, reading mystery/ adventure fiction, scuba-diving and playing the violin.
is from France, she studied at Lille University where she received her Bachelor's in Life Sciences in 2017 and she graduated from Sorbonne University in Paris with a Master's degree in Biodiversity and Conservation of Marine Ecosystems. For her Master's thesis, she studied the impact of habitat quality on gut microbiome communities in the foureye butterflyfish Chaetodon capistratus.
Jade is interested in using the power of molecular studies to investigate the effect of climate change and human activities on marine organisms and ecosystems. For her Ph.D. thesis, Jade will focus on the effects of ocean acidification on the behaviour , learning abilities, and gene expression of the California sea hare (Aplysia californica). Unlike other marine species, the nervous system of Aplysia californica is well-mapped and neurons involved in specific behaviour have been identified. Jade's general aims are to describe the behavioural effects of environmental change and observe the underlying gene expression changes in the involved components of the nervous system with ocean acidification.
Jade has also been a scuba diver since she was 8 years old. She learned to dive in the North of France and has traveled in many places since in order to achieve one of her life goals: dive in all the seas in the world!
is from Hong Kong and received his Bachelor’s degree in Ecology & Biodiversity from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in 2017. As a research assistant after his studies, he worked on applying population genomic data into marine restoration of local gorgonians. Such experience had made him recognise his passion in pursuing marine conversation by utilising the power of molecular tools and techniques.
As part of his PhD, he is investigating the ecological impacts brought from the mercy release of hybrid grouper (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus x E. lanceolatus) into the wild by performing gut content analysis with metabarcoding. The hybrid grouper is carnivorous and released into the wild in large quantities, yet there is a complete lack of information on the ecology of the wild populations.
His ultimate goal is to utilize genomic data to understand the speciation processes within the genus Epinephelus and reveal if any hybridization events occurred in the past that are contributing to species diversification.
is from Reggio Calabria, Italy. He studied in “La Sapienza” University of Rome, where he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Natural Science in 2017 and the Master’s in Ecobiology in 2020.
For his master’s thesis, Daniele used stable isotope analysis to study the changes of the isotopic trophic niche parameters in relation to the seasonality of sea-ice in three dominant macrobenthic primary consumers species (Sterechinus neumayerii, Ophionotus victoriae, Adamussium colbecki) in Ross Sea (Antarctica).
Fascinated by the incredible potential of epigenetics in answering questions about the past, present and future evolution, Daniele joined the Schunter lab in August 2021. Regarding his PhD thesis, he is going to investigate the types of individual behaviour that emerge in a coral reef fish species Amphiprion clarkii under exposure to elevated CO2 and which of these behaviours will persist across generations. The aim is to understand how ocean acidification could affect the behaviour of this important species in the coral reef ecosystem and determine which epigenetic mechanisms may be involved in these changes.
In his free time, Daniele loves hiking, nature photography, cooking and reading books!
Francis Zhaojia Liu
is from Mainland China. He received his Bachelor's Degree in Marine Biology from Sun Yat-sen University in 2021. Now he is pursuing his PhD degree in an interdisciplinary research field of using environmental DNA to reconstruct Holocene Sea-level and is part of the lab of Dr Nicole Khan from the Earth Sciences department (www.sealevelchangelab.com). His research aims at using this innovative eDNA technique to enhance the precision of sea-level reconstruction. The ultimate goal of this geological study is to deepen our understanding of sea-level change under the background of climate change.
Out of the lab he likes reading and is addicted to badminton.
Debora Desantis is from Italy. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Pavia in 2018 and graduated from the University of Bologna with a Master’s degree in Marine Biology.For her Master’s thesis, Debora performed molecular modelling and docking simulation with fish beta2 adrenergic receptors and the beta-blocker propranolol to investigate the initiating events in the Adverse Outcome Pathway of emerging pollutants.
Debora is particularly fascinated by employing the power of molecular tools to examine how marine organisms cope in a changing environment affected by human activities.
For her PhD thesis, Debora is firstly going to investigate the neuromolecular impacts of chemical pollution on the marine model species Oryzias melastigma and analyse whether these alterations will persist across multiple generations. Then, she will move to a deeper investigation of the connection between the brain and the behaviour in the coral reef species Labroides dimidiatus. Employing vanguard technologies such as single-cell RNA sequencing, her attempt is to better understand how brain characteristics relate to specific behaviour and the possible effects on this sensitive relationship under a climate change scenario.
In her free time, Debora loves hiking, riding horses, diving and reading books!
Senior Research Assistant
is from Hong Kong. He received his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Plymouth University, and an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in International Master of Science in Marine Biological Resources (IMBRSea) with a full scholarship, which was very rewarding academically as well as a unique cultural experience.
He is currently the coordinator for FishBase and SeaLifeBase with the Swire Institute of Marine Sciences (SWIMS). In this role, he oversees marine life data for Hong Kong and adjacent regions, while developing a tool to facilitate fishery resource management by collaboration with database experts and scholars.
He’s enthusiastic about fish, nature conservation and enjoys helping people learn about the natural world. In his previous work role, he organised and operated over 100 field trips for teenagers to places as diverse as China, the Antarctic and the Arctic, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Borneo rainforest.
In his free time, Ho enjoys photography, hiking, cooking and meditation :)
Senior Research Assistant
is from Italy, where she has obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Marine Biology. Her Bachelor’s thesis was focused on the characterization of a coral reef in Indonesia while for her Master’s thesis she worked at the Oceanographic center of Palma de Mallorca, analyzing data on shark fishery and by-catch around the Balearic islands.
Maxine is working on identifying cryptobenthic fish species in Hong Kong using eDNA analysis. Samples will be collected through diving around Hong Kong and analysis will be performed in the molecular laboratory. Hopefully new species will be discovered!
Kam Yan Chit
loves nature, especially the ocean. The ocean is mysterious that it attracts people to dig out more about it.
Loves diving, travelling, music, and .... sleeping!
Currently helping out with different projects about impacts of elevated temperature and CO2 level on fish genetics and behaviours through generations.
Technical Support & Magician!
She runs the molecular ecology facility and loves her adorable cats.
is from Kazakhstan, studying her bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology & Biotechnology at HKU. In our lab, Munisa studied alternative mRNA splicing patterns in response to high CO2 levels in the coral reef species Acanthochromis polyacanthus. For her final year project, she is currently analyzing a global gene expression profile of the zebrafish Danio rerio impacted by elevated CO2.
worked on deciphering the molecular drivers of a mutualistic behaviour between a cleaner wrasse and its client. The cleaner wrasse provides essential services to the coral reef ecosystem by removing ectoparasites from other fishes. The study of this interaction showed that it is mainly the hindbrain and the forebrain that drive the interaction. The interaction behaviour in the cleaner wrasse involved changes in neuronal activity and the expression of neurohormones and steroids whereas in the client, fewer molecular alterations were found, mostly involving pituitary hormone responses. Lastly, we exposed these interacting fishes to future climate change conditions, such as elevated temperatures and CO2 and found that the behaviour and molecular pathways are altered by the environmental condition, potentially disrupting the mutualistic behaviour. Sandra is now moving to Spain to do her PhD at the University of Barcelona.
FORMER LAB MEMBERS
Dr. Natalia Petit-Marty
was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab and worked on marine conservation and assessing the adaptive potential to global change and fisheries in marine species.
She is now at the CSIC in Spain:
Dr. José Ricardo Paula
His primary focus is to study how behaviour evolves and adapt to different environments using integrative approaches
Cleaning mutualisms are crucial ecological components of coral reefs, key to marine biodiversity and abundance in these ecosystems. Such mutualisms represent one of the most complex interspecific interactions between different species, which involve a cleaner fish, which eat ectoparasites, dead tissue and mucous from client partners. The relevance of these mutualisms for biodiversity and the urgency to understand their responses to changing environments makes this research area of utmost importance.
With us he was investigating the neuro-molecular landscape of cleaner fish cognitive phenotypes.
Jose now runs his own group in Portugal
worked on alternative splicing patterns underlying the response to a heatwave in a wild fish from the Great Barrier Reef.
worked in the lab as a Research Assistant on proteomic signals underlying exposure to ocean acidification in a coral reef fish and is now a PhD student at City University here: https://www.marineecosystems.org/
was working on RNA alternative splicing events in fish brains and is now a medical student at HKU
was working on alternative RNA splicing in Amphiprion percula under diel CO2 cycles (orange clownfish) and is now doing a Masters degree in Biorobotics at the University of Bristol, UK.
Schunter C, Donelson J, Munday P, & Ravasi T (2022). Resilience and adaptation to local and global environmental change. In Evolution, Development and Ecology of Anemonefishes: Model Organisms for Marine Science. CRC Press. 10.1201/9781003125365-28
Salamin N, Schunter C, Monroe A, Ryu T, & Ravasi T (2022). Anemonefish Genomics. In Evolution, Development and Ecology of Anemonefishes: Model Organisms for Marine Science. CRC Press. 10.1201/9781003125365-3
Ramírez-Calero S, Paula JR, Rosa R, Ravasi T, Schunter C* (2022) Neuro-molecular Characterization of fish cleaning interaction. Scientific Reports. s41598-022-12363-6
Petit-Marty NP*, Min L, Tan IZ, Chung A, Terrasa B, Guijarro B, Ordines F, Ramirez-Amaro S, Massuti E, Schunter C* (2022) Declining population sizes and loss of genetic diversity in commercial fishes: a simple method for a first diagnostic. Front. Mar. Sci. 10.3389/fmars.2022.872537
Jingliang K, Nagelkerken I, Rummer JL, Munday PL, Ravasi T, Schunter C* (2022) Rapid evolution fuels transcriptional plasticity to ocean acidification. Global Change Biology, 00, 1-16. 10.1111/gcb.16119
Chan KN, Suresh S, Munday P, Ravasi T, Bernal M, Schunter C* (2022) The alternative splicing landscape or a coral reef fish during a marine heatwave. Ecology and Evolution. 10.1002/ece3.8738
Bonzi LC*, Monroe AA, Lehmann R, Berumen ML, Ravasi, Schunter C* (2021) The time course of molecular acclimation to seawater in a euryhaline fish. Scientific Reports 10.1101/2021.05.17.444413
Monroe, AA, Schunter C, Welch M, Munday PL, Ravasi T (2021) Molecular basis of parental contributions to the behavioral tolerance of elevated pCO2 in a coral reef fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 288.20211931. doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1931
Forero-Mejia AC, Schunter C, Duitama J, Ferreira C, Sean Connell, Ravasi T, Nagelkerken I (2021) Lack of population structure in triplefin fish living in CO2 vents. Under review.
Schunter C*, Jarrold MD, Munday PL, and Ravasi T (2021) Diel pCO2 fluctuations alter the molecular response of coral reef fishes under ocean acidification conditions. Molecular Ecology. 10.1111/mec.16124
Lehmann R, Schunter C, Welch MJ, Arold ST, Nilsson GE, Tegner JN, Munday PL, and Ravasi T (2021) Genetic architecture of behavioural resilience to ocean acidification. Under review.
Petit-Marty N, Nagelkerken I, Connell SD, and Schunter C (2021) Natural CO2 seeps reveal adaptive potential to ocean acidification in fish. Evolutionary Applications. 10.1111/eva.13239
Tsang R, Welch M, Munday P, Ravasi T Schunter C* (2020) Proteomic responses to ocean acidification in the brain of juvenile coral reef fish. Frontiers in Marine Science. 10.3389/Fmars.2020.00605
Bernal M*, Schunter C*, Lehmann R, Lightfoot, DJ, Allan BJM, Veilleux HD, Rummer JL, Munday PL, Ravasi T (2020) Species-specific molecular responses of wild coral reef fishes during a marine heatwave. Science Advances. 10.1126/sciadv.aay3423 *contributed equally. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaay3423
New coverage of the fish heatwave paper:
Schunter C, Ravasi T, Munday PL, Nilsson G (2019) Neural effects of elevated CO2 in fish may be amplified by a vicious cycle. Conservation Physiology. 10.1093/conphys/coz100
Munday P, Schunter C, Allan B, Nicol S, Parsons D, Pether S, Ravasi T, Setiawan A, Smith N & Domingos J (2019) Testing the adaptive potential of yellowtail kingfish to ocean warming and acidification. Front. Ecol. Evol. 7: 253. doi: 10.3389/fevo
Schunter C, Macpherson E, Raventos N, Garriga J, Garza JC, Bartumeus F, Pascual M (2019) A novel integrative approach elucidates fine-scale dispersal patchiness in marine populations. Scientific Reports 9: 10796 (2019)
Special Issue on "The role of plasticity in phenotypic adaptation to rapid environmental change'
guest edited by Donelson JM, Fox RJ, Gaitan-Espitia JD, Schunter C and Ravasi T
Fox JR, Donelson JM, Schunter C, Ravasi T, Gaitan-Espitia JD (2019) Beyond buying time: the role of plasticity in phenotypic adaptation to rapid environmental change. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2018.0174
Schunter C, Lehmann R, Bernal M, Ravasi T (2018) Unusual bilateral color pattern in a regal angelfish from the Red Sea. Bulletin of Marine Science. doi.org/10.5343/bms.2018.0050
Youtube video to the note: https://youtu.be/pGdaKYOvGyY
Lehmann R, Lightfoot D, Schunter C, Mitchell CT, Ohyanagi H, Mineta K, Foret S, Berumen M, Miller DJ, Aranda M, Gojobori T, Munday P, Ravasi T (2018) Finding Nemo’s Genes: A chromosome-scale reference assembly of the genome of the orange clownfish Amphiprion percula. Molecular Ecology Resources.doi.org/10.1111.1755-0998.12939
Schunter C, Bonzi L, Norstog J, Parkes S, McCabe M, Ravasi T (2017) Desert fish populations defy hydrological constraints via ecological and physiological adaptation. (under review).
Schunter C, Welch M, Nilsson G, Rummer J, Munday P, Ravasi T (2017) An interplay between plasticity and parental phenotype determines impacts of ocean acidification on a reef fish. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1038/s42559/017-0428-8.
Boero F, Foglini F, Fraschetti S, Goriup P, Macpherson E, Planes S, Soukissian T, The CoCoNet Consortium (2017) CoCoNet: towards coast to coast networks of marine protected areas (from the shore to the high and deep sea), coupled with sea-based wind energy potential. SCIentific RESearch and Information Technology, 6, 1-95.
Pascual M, Rives B, Schunter C, Macpherson E (2017) Impact of life history traits on gene flow: A multispecies systematic review across oceanographic barriers in the Mediterranean Sea. PLoS One.
Schunter C, Welch M, Ryu T, Zhang H, Nilsson G, Munday PL, Ravasi T (2016) Molecular signatures of transgenerational response to ocean acidification in a species of reef fish. Nature Climate Change, 6, 1014-1018. doi:10.1038/ncimate3087. Altimetrics score (April 2017): 384.
Ryu T, Seridi L, Moitinho-Silva L, Oates M, Liew Y, Mavromatis C, Wang X, Haywood A, Lafi F, Kupresanin M, Sougrat R, Alzahrani M, Giles E, Ghosheh Y, Schunter C, Baumgarten S, Berumen M, Gao X, Aranda M, Foret S, Gough J, Voolstra CR, Hentschel U, Ravasi T (2016) Hologenome analysis of two marine sponges with different microbiomes. BMC Genomics, 17, 158.
Schunter C, Pascual M, Garza JC, Raventos N, Macpherson E (2014) Kinship analyses identify fish dispersal events on a temperate coast line. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 281, 20140556.
Schunter C, Vollmer S, Macpherson E, Pascual M (2014) Transcriptome analyses and differential gene expression in a non-model fish species with alternative mating tactics. BMC Genomics, 15, 167.
Schunter C, Garza C, Macpherson E, Pascual M (2014) SNP development from RNA-seq data in a non-model fish: how many individuals are needed for accurate allele frequency prediction? Molecular Ecology Resources, 14, 157–165.
Schunter C, Carreras-Carbonell J, Macpherson E, Tintoré J, Vidal-Vijande E, Pascual A, Guidetti P, Pascual M (2011) Matching genetics with oceanography: directional gene flow in a Mediterranean fish species. Molecular Ecology, 20, 5167–81.
Schunter C, Carreras-Carbonell J, Planes S, Sala E, Ballesteros E, Zabala M, Harmelin J-G, Harmelin-Vivien M, Macpherson E, Pascual M (2011) Genetic connectivity pattern in an endangered species: the dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 401 (1-2), 126-133.
Gerlach G, Hotchkins-Davis A, Avolio C, Schunter C (2008) Kin recognition in Zebrafish: a 24-hour window for olfactory imprinting. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences. 275: 1647, 2165 -2170
JOIN THE LAB
Swire Institute of Marine Science;
School of Biological Sciences,
Kadoorie Biological Sciences Building,
The University of Hong Kong,
Pok Fu Lam Road,
Hong Kong SAR