May 2006 - December 2007Breea is a DOEI sponsored Postdoctoral Scholar in May of 2006. A summary of her research interests, current research work, and educational experience is detailed below.
Breea's primary research interest is how communities respond to environmental changes. Specifically, she studies the causes and consequences of variability in the structure and composition of hydrothermal vent communities, in order to understand the resilience of communities to natural and anthropogenic disturbances and the relationship between species diversity and ecosystem functioning, including productivity and nutrient cycling. Currently, she is developing a mathematical model to investigate the contribution of local-scale ecological processes, including abiotic factors and biological interactions, on regional-scale patterns of species diversity.
Hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise (EPR) may host the highest regional species diversity of any mid-ocean ridge system. This pattern has been attributed to regional processes, including geologic age, fast spreading rate, high- to intermediate-disturbance frequency and intensity, habitat heterogeneity, and extensive areas of diffuse hydrothermal flow. However, local ecological processes can also influence regional and subsequently global patterns, when larval dispersal and/or adult migration “connects” local communities, such as the closely distributed animal assemblages within a hydrothermal vent site or among multiple vent sites among a mid-ocean ridge system.
In her PhD research, Breea used a combination of quantitative sampling and manipulative field experiments to characterize the ecology of the epifaunal community (polychaetes, gastropods, amphipods, etc.) associated with aggregations of the giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila at the EPR. Results from her work suggest that habitat provision or environmental modification by “foundation” species, such as Riftia, may contribute to the maintenance of regional species diversity at the EPR.Breea received her B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at Tulane University in 2000 and her Ph.D. in Biology at the Pennsylvania State University in 2005. She has participated in 10 open-water research cruises and made 17 submersible dives (13 Alvin and 4 Johnson-Sea-Link). In addition to working with her co-sponsors, Tim Shank and Hal Caswell in the Biology Department at WHOI, Breea is currently collaborating with Chuck Fisher (Penn State University), Jim Childress (University of California, Santa Barbara), Steve Macko (University of Virginia), Ellen Strong (Smithsonian Institution), and Sabine Gollner, Julia Zekely, and Monika Bright (University of Vienna).