Sonia J. Rowley

Dr. Sonia J. RowleySonia_Rowley_OC_THUMBNAIL.jpg

Assistant Researcher

Department of Earth Sciences

School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology (SOEST)

University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, USA


CV (Full) (In brief)


My primary research focus is on the evolutionary relationships within and between the coral holobiont and it’s environment, primarily focusing on gorgonian (sea fan) corals. I seek to understand the biological success of this group, in particular to its dominance at mesophotic and deeper ocean depths (>50m/164ft) of the Indo Pacific. This is achieved through integrating cross-disciplinary approaches from experimental field ecology (using closed circuit rebreather technology), genomics (phylogeography, systematics, and symbiosis), ethology, functional morphology, and physiology, in order to further understand phenotypic responses to environmental change over ecological and geological (deep) time. As such, I have collected and curated >7000 gorgonian specimens currently held in my lab for systematic and phylgenomic research, with many new species to science. At present, I am part of a team of researchers developing fluorescence techniques in the detection of organic material in ocean environments, where I am able to utilise this novel technology to ask questions of the influence of hydrodynamics on the phenotypic and demographic structure of marine organisms.


Over the past decade, my research has shown that mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) within the Indo-Pacific are thermally dynamic environments, and are dominated by diverse assemblages of gorgonian octocorals. These findings have led to specific research goals, which are achieved with diving and research technology, and collaborations:


1)  To explore and describe shallow and mesophotic ecosystems across the Indo-West Pacific particularly in response to environmental change,

2)  To share such discoveries with the local and scientific communities alike with a view to assist in conservation awareness and management,

3)  To develop a phylogenomic and multi-trait framework for an emerging model system on MCEs to subsequently,

4)  Elucidate mechanisms of selection (e.g., thermal stress) as selective agent(s) leading to the success of the gorgonian holobiont and MCEs as a whole, and

5)  To have a stable foundation and laboratory to provide the means to support talented young scientists particularly from the Indo-West Pacific and island nations.

Academic Appointments

2020 – Present: Assistant Researcher, Department of Earth Sciences, SOEST, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Hawai'i, USA

2022 – Present: Research Associate, Dept. Invertebrate Zoology, NMNH, Smithsonian, Washington, DC, USA

2019 – 2020: Research Biologist, SOESTUniversity of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Hawai'i, USA

2019 – Applied Research Lab., University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Hawai'i, USA

2017 – Present: Research Affiliate. SOESTUniversity of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Hawai'i, USA

Professional Service

2020 – Present: Ambassador: Divesoft Closed Circuit Rebreather technology, CZ.

2018 – Present: Elected Fellow National (FN), Explorers Club, USA

2017 – Present: Linnean Society of London, UK. Elected Fellow (FLS)

2016 – Present: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Shore Based Scientist, University of Hawai'i, USA

2015 – 2018: Association for Marine Exploration (AME), USA. CSO (Chief Science Officer)

2013 – Present: Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (BPBM), USA. Research Affiliate

2007 – Present: Royal Society of Biology (MRSB), UK

Academic Education

2015 – 2017: Post Doctoral Fellow, SOEST, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, USA

2009 – 2015: PhD, Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand

2004 – 2008: BSc (Hons) Marine Biology, University of Plymouth, UK, 1st class honours with industrial placement

2003 – 2004: Extended Science, University of Plymouth, UK (GPA 4)

Professional Awards

2017 – USA Green Card, National Interest Waiver

2016 – Sir David Attenborough Award for Field Work, Systematics Association & Linnaean Society of London