DOCS Student Named 2023 Fulbright Scholar

July 14, 2023

Oceanography & Coastal Sciences student Ben Limer

Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences PhD student Ben Limer

BATON ROUGE - Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences PhD candidate Benjamin Limer will be graduating this August with a little bit of extra distinction: he was recently chosen as a 2023 Fulbright Scholar. Limer, who is originally from Chicago, has been working in Assistant Professor Dan Holstein’s Seascape Ecology Lab, and recently completed his dissertation on dispersal and water retention in coral larvae.  

“This Fulbright is going to really enhance Ben’s opportunities as he becomes a professional academic and researcher,” said Holstein. “I am hugely proud of him and of this achievement! I can’t wait to see what he discovers in his new role.”

Limer spoke with CC&E about his research and plans for the future.

So first off, congratulations! Where are you planning on going for your Fulbright Scholarship?

The University of Haifa, in Israel. I’ll be working with Dr. Tali Mass. I heard her speak at the Coral Reef Society Conference and I really liked all the research she and her post docs were doing. I had a conversation with them about their lab and they seemed very collaborative. I’d potentially be able to do some biophysical modeling for a bunch of labs out there.

You work with modeling coral reefs. Can you talk a little bit about your current research?

The only way coral and most marine larvae can migrate is to disperse in the ocean currents. With corals especially, they are really poor swimmers, so we don't really know how they can influence where they migrate, or their destination. They're mainly controlled by the ocean currents. A lot of the work I’ve done for this PhD was to study how they swim vertically, up and down in the water column, because that matters a lot. This matters because the currents at the surface are a lot faster than the currents toward the bottom of the ocean. So in order for them to actually settle and become an adult coral, they have to reach the bottom. I'm investigating how if they swim down, that leads to more retention, which is when the larvae settle over the reefs where they were born, instead of dispersing really far into the ocean and getting swept away by the currents. The more we can understand these sorts of behaviors, the better we can understand retention. 

Can this research be connected to conservation? 

Dispersal modeling allows us to look at which reefs are going to produce the most coral, which can then supply other reefs with larvae. And if we know a lot about the connectivity aspects, we can start to look at where to put protected areas. For example. I did some work with an NGO a few years ago, where we helped the Honduran government decide where they were going to put a protected area. That was with some corals but also some fish.

So the coral reefs in Israel are actually the northernmost reefs in the world. Does this give them any unique characteristics? Are there any specific features or aspect you’re interested in investigating?

Yes that’s true. I don’t know if it’s because of their latitude, but these reefs are very tolerant of the extreme high temperatures in the Gulf of Eilat, which has drawn a lot of interest in the research community. For Fulbright, I’m still interested in larval dispersal, specifically if their behaviors could be favorable for the reseeding of larvae between shallow and mesophotic reefs. I’m also going to investigate different hydrodynamic flow regimes that could be more favorable to larval settlement.

With Fulbright Scholarships, there is usually an element of cultural exchange. What interested you about Israel?

Well, I’m Jewish. Growing up in Hebrew School, they tell us one side of the conflict [with Palestinians], but I’m interested in learning more about the situation as a whole. I’m hoping to facilitate a more equitable stance among Jewish Americans. 

I’m also looking forward to getting to travel around and visit the whole country. And I’m really looking forward to the slower pace, specifically on Fridays when everyone makes time for Shabbat.

So what is the timeline for this? When do you leave?

I leave in the last week of October and the project is at least 20 months. I’m planning on spending most of the time near the university in Haifa, but I imagine I’ll be spending a couple months in the spring in Eilat for experiments during the reproductive season.