Ross Cunning, Ph.D., is a coral research biologist in Shedd’s Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research. The newest member of the marine research team, he will study coral reefs in the Bahamas to understand how to sustain reef ecosystems in the face of a changing climate.
Cunning’s cutting-edge research has made him an expert in the relationship between corals and their symbiotic algae, which provide corals with food and give them their color. The breakdown of this vital relationship, known as coral bleaching, occurs when ocean waters are too warm. Coral bleaching is one of the leading causes of reef decline around the world.
Between his fieldwork in the Bahamas and his molecular work in the aquarium’s Microbiome Lab, Cunning’s objective is to identify genetic and ecological factors that promote tolerance to increasing temperatures in corals and their symbiotic algae. His findings will help reveal how some corals may be able to resist or adapt to climate change and will be applied to improving coral reef restoration techniques.
Before coming to Shedd, Cunning was a postdoctoral research scientist at the University of Miami working on approaches to boost coral thermal tolerance. Prior to that, he was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, where he developed theory and mathematical models of coral bleaching.
Cunning’s scientific works have received awards from the International Society for Reef Studies and the University of Miami, where he conducted his graduate research.
Cunning earned a Ph.D. in marine biology and ecology from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and environmental science from Duke University.