Marine Benthic Ecology and Ecophysiology

Yvonne Sawall is the principle investigator of the Marine Benthic Ecology and Ecophysiology (MABEE) Laboratory at BIOS. Her research focuses on shallow water coral reefs and temperate and tropical seagrass meadows integrating aspects of physiology, ecology, and oceanography.  The overarching question of her research is how organisms and communities interact with their environment, while focusing primarily on key metabolic processes (photosynthesis, respiration and calcification) of foundation species (corals and seagrass). Understanding responses of corals and seagrass to persisting and changing environmental conditions is of paramount importance, as they form the basis of ecologically and economically important ecosystems that are exposed to increasing threat of local and global stressors. Hence, the mission of the MABEE lab is to elucidate potential impacts of global change on important coastal ecosystems by understanding the strategies and limitations of keystone organisms and benthic communities to respond to different environmental conditions.

Currently, the MABEE lab pursues three lines of research, which include
(i) organismal and community metabolism and their drivers in coral reefs,
(ii) coral thermal tolerance and thermal stress mitigation, and
(iii) seagrass functional processes and restoration.

The MABEE lab applies a number of state-of-the-art and cutting-edge approaches and is particularly invested in developing and applying in-situ technologies, such as the gradient flux technique, to measure reef productivity, and a novel fully automated in-situ incubation set up (BIO-RESORT) that allows for field-based metabolic rate and flux measurements. Furthermore, multi-scale approaches are envisioned (i) to investigate how lab-derived knowledge about the effects of single or multiple environmental conditions translate into the ‘real world’ where multiple environmental parameters act on different spatial and temporal scales, and (ii) to assess what role species interactions may play in modulating the response of individuals. The MABEE lab utilizes a combination of in-situ, mesocosm, and laboratory-based approaches to investigate organismal and community processes. A recent NSF award allows for major upgrades of the BIOS mesocosm facility, making it a state-of-the art, easy-to-use facility supporting novel climate change research and more.

Funded projects since coming to BIOS (2016)

Current projects

2022 – 2024 Heising-Simons Foundation. Collaborative Research: Enhance coral resilience against climate warming. Grant no.: #2123697, PIs: Y Sawall, S de Putron, H Putnam (URI), G Goodbody-Gringley (CCMI). Value: US$ 1.240.000

2021 – 2024 NSF (National Science Foundation) Program: Chemical Oceanography. Collaborative Research: In Situ Investigations and Historical Analysis of Eddy Impacts on coastal carbon chemistry and coral calcification. Grant no.: #2123697, PI: Y Sawall, co-PIs: D Grundle (BIOS), N Goodkin (AMNH). Value: US$ 721,000

2021 – 2023 NSF (National Science Foundation) Program: Infrastructure Capacity for Biological Research. Major improvements of the outdoor mesocosm facility at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. Grant no.: 2129274, PI: Y Sawall, co-PI: S de Putron (BIOS). Value: US$343,000.

Past projects

2020 - 2021  BIOS Cawthorn Research Innovation Fund. Advancements in understanding in-situ organism metabolic rates via innovative incubation chambers and an oxygen isotope tracer approach. PI: Y Sawall; co-PI: T Noyes (BIOS); in collaboration with Prof. (Emeritus) M Bender (Princeton). Value: US$ 150,000.

2017 – 2019 DFG (German Research Foundation) funded Future Ocean Cluster of Excellence. Is artificial upwelling a solution to coral bleaching threat? PI: Y Feng (GEOMAR); Collaborators: Y Sawall, M Lebrato. Value: € 140,000 (no overhead included)

2017 - 2019  BIOS Cawthorn Research Innovation Fund. Improving reef calcification measurements and exploring dynamics of reef functioning. PIs: Y Sawall, EJ Hochberg, N Bates. Value: US$ 150,000.

2016 – 2019 NASA Earth Venture Suborbital-2 (EVS-2) Project. Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL). PI: Eric Hochberg. Value: US$ 15,000,000 – Sawall was postdoc of the project

Project Contact

Dr. Yvonne Sawall
Assistant Scientist

In The News


ASU Announces New School of Ocean Futures

The BIOS National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program got underway in late August when nine students from universities across the U.S., and including Puerto Rico, arrived on campus. The annual 12-week internship program provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to participate in research projects under the mentorship of BIOS faculty. The 2022 BIOS REU program features three research themes in coral reef science.

Nine Undergraduate Students Receive NSF Support for Research Internships at BIOS

Beginning in June, with support from Heising-Simons Foundation International, Ltd. a multi-institution team of scientists will investigate how corals respond to thermal stress events. A large part of the research at BIOS will take place at the Institute’s state-of-the-art mesocosm facility, which allows the team to place live corals in aquaria where they can control and manipulate a suite of environmental variables, such as temperature, pH, and light.

New Grant Supports Research into Coral Resilience and Climate Change

Seven students who participated in the BIOS 2021 summer Coral Reef Ecology course are celebrating their contribution to the 2022 Ocean Sciences Meeting conference proceedings after submitting two abstracts based on their experiences in Bermuda. Both were accepted for oral presentations at the international conference, which was held in a virtual format for nine days beginning February 24. One abstract focuses on the scientific research they conducted during the three-week course, while the other highlights the benefits of intensive summer courses for early-career scientists. “I wasn’t quite ready to leave BIOS and disconnect from all the wonderful people I met and valuable connections I made there, so I was excited for this opportunity to keep working with our BIOS cohort,” said Emma Korein, 29, a first-year doctoral student at the University of Delaware (bottom row in bright pink shirt).

BIOS Coral Reef Ecology Students Make a Splash at International Science Conference

For 12 weeks last fall, a group of nine undergraduate students took part in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at BIOS. This annual program pairs students with BIOS faculty and research staff, allowing participants to undertake research projects while also gaining fundamental skills such as experimental design, record-keeping, scientific writing, and public speaking. Last year featured a new collaborative program design around three broad research themes: biological production and exports, coral reef systems ecology, and plastics in the marine environment.

Fall Interns Team up for Ocean Science Research Experiences

A grant from the National Science Foundation will bring a series of improvements to the outdoor mesocosm facility over the coming year. Under the supervision of associate scientist Yvonne Sawall (left) and associate scientist & assistant director of university programs Samantha de Putron, the facility is set to be transformed into the Bermuda Marine Mesocosm Facility—a larger, more flexible outdoor space in which scientists can perform a wide range of research on the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems. Sawall shows living coral specimens to a group of students from The Berkeley Institute during a field trip funded by the BIOS Curriculum Enrichment Program.

Grant Brings Upgrades to Benthic Ecology Research Facility at BIOS

This year, seventeen Bermudian students were selected to participate in the BIOS Bermuda Program, an intensive summer internship program that gives students the opportunity to conduct scientific research projects under the mentorship of BIOS faculty and research staff. Iziah Tucker, a first year Bermuda Program intern, works with his mentor Rachel Parsons in the BIOS Microbial Ecology Laboratory on a project investigating how microbes colonize microplastics in the marine environment.

A Summer of STEM


Student Field Trips Resume at BIOS


My internship protecting the reefs in Bermuda