top of page



P.I. Rebecca Vega Thurber

Pernot Distinguished Professor,
Department of Microbiology

My lab investigates how bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms interact with and regulate marine ecosystems. Currently our projects focus on tropical reefs in French Polynesia and the Caribbean. Our lab is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation.​

My lab’s research uses interdisciplinary approaches to address questions about how viruses and microbes function in and affect the environment. Using a combination of empirical experimentation, field work, metagenomics, microscopy and molecular biology, my research provides important insight into a variety of fields including: microbiology, coral reef ecology, animal physiology, virology, and the evolution of symbioses. email.

Current members

Dr. Rebecca Vega Thurber
Emily Schmeltzer

2017-2018 (Lab Manager) 2018- (PhD Student)

Emily Schmeltzer.  Ph.D. Candidate

My research interests lie in marine microbial ecology on tropical coral reefs, specifically how coral-associated microbial communities from different coral host species respond to nutrient enrichment, coral bleaching events, predation pressures, and varying anthropogenic impacts.  I spend my time doing a combination of fieldwork, labwork, and programming and bioinformatics to analyze both high-throughput metagenomics and amplicon data. email.



Savanah Leidholt.  Ph.D. Candidate

I am studying Puffy Snout Syndrome (PSS), which is a lethal disease prevalent in various species of fish in aquaculture and aquarium settings.  I am interested in discovering the etiological agent or agents that cause disease as well as disease mitigation techniques to reduce the spread of PSS. email.



Alex Vompe.  Ph.D. Candidate

My research uses in situ sampling and bioinformatics to examine the association between environmental stressors and phase shifts in corals and their microbiomes.  My graduate work will inform coral conservation strategies and consider the importance of microbial communities in coral resilience. Email.


2021 - 

Eddie Fuques. Ph.D. Student

My research focuses on characterizing marine microbial and viral communities. By using metagenomic and meta-transcriptomic approaches I will be studying both viral and bacterial diversity in coral reef ecosystems in order to understand the role that microorganisms play in these threatened habitats and contribute to marine species conservation. Email.


Sunni Patton.  Ph.D. Student

2021 - 

I am interested in studying how natural phenomena, anthropogenic contaminants, and other environmental stressors influence marine microbial communities.  My work focuses on understanding microbiome resilience and sensitivity in response to environmental stressors in the endangered Caribbean coral, Acropora cervicornis. Email.


Mackenzie Kawahara.  Ph.D. Student

2022 - 

I am interested in long-term effects of nutrient enrichment on the microbiome dynamics and resilience of corals that live in highly oligotrophic habitats. I will be helping with the Recharge project and building The Mo’orea Microbiome. In Mo’orea, I hope to help bridge the gap between the scientists and community members by ensuring that experimental results and findings are well communicated to increase our knowledge about the surrounding ecosystems and make sustainable decisions and regulations.



Dr. Kalia Bistolas. NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology

I am interested in the interface between viruses, their microbial and coral hosts, and human-driven changes in marine nutrient regimes. The goal of my research is to understand how viruses contribute to cellular metabolism, microbial community composition, and coral health to better predict how microbial communities respond to transient and sustained eutrophication. email.



Dr. Hannah EpsteinNSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology

My research interests are focused around coral reef microbial ecology and its role in ecosystem health and climate resilience. In the Vega Thurber Lab, I examine the effects of shifts in nutrient subsidies on the health and resilience of corals through a microbial lens. With the aim to identify land-sea connections in biogeochemical cycling, we hope to discover whether land conservation activities can bolster the health of adjacent reef habitats, providing critical information for future environmental management initiatives. email. website.



Dr. Denise Silva.  Research Associate

My research interests are focused on molecular microbial ecology, anthropogenic impacts, bioremediation, and bioinformatics. Currently, I explore the core microbiome profile of several coral species in distinct coral reefs around the world and relate environmental factors with the coral core microbiome.  This study is part of the Global Core Microbiome Project (GCMP), which involves more than 110 coral species from several reefs worldwide. As manager of the Vega Thurber Lab, I develop operational standards to maintain the proper functioning of the laboratory and ensure compliance with practices in accordance with current standards. In addition, I provide support to students and help in orienting their research, especially related to laboratory protocols, plans to ensure the well-being and safety of students during laboratory activities. email.



Dr. Rowan McLachlan.  Postdoctoral Scholar

As a coral ecophysiologist, I am interested in understanding the influence of anthropogenic stressors and changes in the seawater environment on the phenotype of the coral holobiont, including the animal host, algal Symbiodiniaceae, and the microbiome. In the Vega Thurber lab, I am investigating the link between coral physiological health and microbiome dysbiosis under the local stressors of nutrient pollution and over-fishing in French Polynesia. Email. Website.



Dr. Lauren Speare.  LSRF and Simons Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow

I am interested in how microbes perceive and interact with other organisms within
marine microenvironments. Specifically, my research focuses on interrogating
antagonistic interactions such as competition, predation, and parasitism with the
ultimate goal of understanding fundamental mechanisms of microbial interactions. In the
Vega Thurber Lab, I explore microbial predation by the ubiquitous marine bacterium
Halobacteriovorax and parasitism by the novel coral symbiont Aquarickettsia rohweri. Email. Website.

& Undergraduate Superstars


Ellie Boryer

I am an undergraduate studying Botany and Microbiology with an interest in science outreach and education.  I am working with Savanah Leidholt on creating a microbiology summer camp for high schoolers.

Image from iOS.jpg

Athena Peterson

I am an undergraduate studying microbiology and marine biology. I am currently working on the MVP project with Emily Schmeltzer.


Olivia Harmon

I am a microbiology student interested in marine conservation and food science. I am working with Dr. Lauren Speare researching predatory bacteria and their role in marine microbial ecosystems.


Manas Rajesh

I am an undergraduate student studying Biology (pre-med option) with interest to go into and serve the medical field. I am currently working with Alex Vompe on Project Recharge.


Jazmin Prado-Gomez

I am a Biochemistry/Molecular Biology and Microbiology undergrad student. I am currently working with Dr. Hannah Epstein and Dr. Denise Silva.

Savanah Leidholt
Alex Vompe
Dr. Kalia Bistolas
Dr. Rowan McLachlan
Dr. Hannah Epstein
Current Undergraduates
Dr. Denise Silva


Eddie Fuques
Sunni Patton
Dr. Lauen Speare
Mackenzie Kawahara

Graduate students


PhD Student, 2016-2021

Dr. Grace Klinges, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Coral Health and Disease Program and Mote Marine Laboratory's International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration


PhD Student, 2016-2021

Dr. Adriana Messyasz, Post-Doctoral Associate at the Rutgers University Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology

Dr. Rebecca Maher, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Bohannan Lab in the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Oregon  email


PhD Student, 2016-2021


Dr. Ryan McMinds, Assistant Professor, University of South Florida


Dr. Stephanie Rosales, senior research associate at the University of Miami's (UM) Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS)


Dr. Rory Welsh, microbiologist at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Dr. Nitzan Soffer, Genomics/NGS portfolio Account Executive at Tecan

Postdoctoral Researchers


Dr. Lydia Baker, Lecturer of Tropical Marine Ecology, Master of Professional Science Program at University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science


Dr. Jesse Zaneveld, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Bothell


Dr. Jerome Payet, Oregon State University


Dr. Adrienne Correa, Assistant Professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas


Dr. Marie Cuvelier, Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography at Nova Southeastern University

Undergraduate alumni


Shalvi Patel


Colton Stensrud


Will Duke


Kylen Tromblay


Taylor Sund


Sonora Meiling, Masters student at the University of the Virgin Islands


Amelia Foster


Trevor Bark

Mikayla Reuter


Ali Yaakola


Tatiana Galvin

Currently working on identifying the causative agent of puffy snout disease with Savanah Leidholt.

Untitled (18).png

Ammon Larsen


Go team!

bottom of page