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My group consists of students and postdocs who come from a wide range of countries and backgrounds. Together, we conduct diverse research projects to address current challenges in coral reef biology. We aim to advance our understanding of how corals are impacted by climate and environmental change, and what mechanisms increase coral stress tolerance in a future ocean.

People: About Me

Verena Schoepf

Assistant Professor

MacGillavry Fellow and Vidi Laureate

I am a marine biologist at the University of Amsterdam investigating how climate and environmental change impact tropical coral reefs, the “rainforests of the sea”. I have published more than 45 papers in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals, including Nature and Science, and have won several awards such as the WA Young Tall Poppy Science Award. As a Superstar of STEM and TEDx Speaker, I am passionate about science communication and promoting women in STEM, and my career and research on “super corals” were featured in the documentary series “Women and Oceans”.

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Rene van der Zande

Postdoctoral Researcher

I am a marine ecologist in the group of Dr. Verena Schoepf at the University of Amsterdam. My research focuses on the effects of multiple stressors on coral health, and aims to improve our understanding of how changing environmental conditions interact in shaping coral reefs presently as well as in the future. To achieve this, I mostly use a combination of manipulative laboratory and aquarium experiments, coupled with long-term monitoring and experiments in the field. The process of finding out more and more about the intricate and fascinating mechanisms of evolution and adaptation in nature fuels my passion for the natural world, and I hope to inspire others to develop the same.

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Sarah Solomon

PhD Candidate

I am a nature enthusiast and marine biologist with a passion for tropical eco-physiology. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam under supervision of Dr. Verena Schoepf, and my research goals involve characterizing how tropical coral reefs will acclimatize to future ocean conditions and understanding the mechanisms that underlie coral resilience in extreme or marginal habitats. I’m inspired by the beauty and complexity of organismal diversity and I aspire to communicate our exciting scientific findings in creative ways to a broad audience.

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Kelly Wong Johnson

PhD Candidate

I completed my MS in Biology at California State University, Northridge where my research focused on the capacity for corals and octocorals to occupy space on rubble-dominated reefs in the United States Virgin Islands and French Polynesia. Continuing my interest for coral ecophysiology on Caribbean reefs, I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam under the supervision of Dr. Verena Schoepf. My current research goals are to explore how the environmental variability of particular reefs in Curaçao and Panama, which are characterized by sub-optimal conditions as compared to surrounding reefs, promotes or reduces the physiological performance and stress-tolerance of corals from those reefs. I am impassioned to be a student, diver, and researcher within a large scientific community working towards better understanding how corals will persist when confronted with persistent global climate change.

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Ilan Bubb

PhD Candidate

I am a Marine Biologist who fell in love with the ocean growing up in Florida, USA. Since completing my B.A. at New College of Florida and M.E.M. at Duke University I have been working to conserve coral reefs through the reduction of land-based sources of pollution along the coast of Saipan, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Continuing my work in the Pacific, I am co-supervised by Dr. Verena Schoepf and Dr. Lyza Johnston in my research studying the patterns and mechanisms of thermal tolerance in reef building corals. It is our hope that this research will facilitate the restoration of local reefs that were devastated by the 2014-2017 global bleaching event. Outside of my research I am a passionate underwater photographer, long distance hiker and cat dad.

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Ashtyn Isaak

PhD Candidate

I am a marine ecologist working towards disentangling the effects of climate change stressors on photosynthesizing organisms in various ocean environments. I completed my BS from Oregon State University and MS in Biology from California State University, Northridge. I am a current PhD student in the Coastal Eco-Physiology Lab Group with Dr. Christopher Cornwall based in Wellington, New Zealand and I’m co-supervised by Dr. Verena Schoepf at the University of Amsterdam. My research focuses on the effects of marine heatwaves and ocean acidification on coral and calcifying macroalgae in the Ningaloo region of Western Australia.

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Riccardo Mazza

MSc project: Adaptation to extreme environmental conditions and coral heat tolerance in inland bays of Curaçao

My curiosity about nature has driven me since I was a child to understand the mechanisms that govern the environment and ecosystems and it has grown into a true passion. My academic journey brings to touch various aspects of biology, with a particular emphasis on ecology, which is my main field of interest. Currently, I'm “diving” into my second master's project focused on understanding coral ability to adapt to extreme and/or marginal environmental conditions under the supervision of Sarah Solomon and Dr Verena Schoepf. By conducting a reciprocal transplant experiment between the inland bay and a fringing reef, I aim to gain insights into corals' capacity to acclimate to the ever-changing abiotic ocean conditions influenced by climate change.

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Rebecca van Oostveen

MSc Project: Coral resistance to heat and hypoxia - the role of environmental history

Motivated by my interest in understanding the impacts of climate change on coral ecophysiology, I started my master’s thesis under the guidance of Kelly Wong and Dr Verena Schoepf. In this project, I am studying coral resilience within Almirante Bay in Bocas del Toro, Panama. This bay is a distinctive environment where corals regularly face extreme and variable environmental conditions. The main goal of this research is to gain insights into the potential role of such environmental history in achieving increased resistance to climate change stressors, along with understanding the associated physiological mechanisms. Through this, I aim to contribute to getting a better understanding of coral adaptive capacity which is crucial to help protect these vital ecosystems.

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Ilmer Benda

MSc project: Role of environmental variability in modulating multi-stress tolerance

My long present interest in the underwater world, and the drive to bring a positive change to current climate change trends perfectly coincided during my Bachelors project; which focused on the shift in coral reef composition. This project set in stone my dream to further pursue this academic field, which would continue directly after by starting a masters track in freshwater and marine biology. I have recently started a Master's project under the supervision of Kelly Wong and Dr Verena Schoepf which is aimed to attain more insight into the effect of environmental history on the response of corals in combined stressor environments.

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Kay Watty

MSc project: Effects of temperature and pH variability on coral photo-biology

After working in epidemiology during the pandemic, I started the Freshwater and Marine Biology master’s program at the University of Amsterdam. Currently, I am conducting my second research project under the supervision of Dr. Rene van der Zande and Dr. Verena Schoepf. We are investigating how corals build tolerance to stress under environmentally varying conditions. My project particularly focuses on the photobiologcal responses of the coral and its symbionts to temperature and pH stress. I am excited to be part of a diverse scientific community and increase our understanding of coral reef ecosystems.

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Maxine Mouly

MSc Project: The effect of temperature and pH variability on coral calcification

I am a master’s student studying marine biology at the University of Amsterdam interested in how environmental stressors coalesce to alter organismal physiology. Conducting research for my thesis project under the supervision of Dr. Rene van der Zande and Dr. Verena Schoepf, we are investigating the roles of environmental history and variability regime in shaping coral tolerance to combined temperature and acidification stress. Through my studies, I hope to continue learning about the mechanisms underpinning coral resilience to changing ocean conditions, sharing new ideas and insights with others to help preserve the ocean’s wonders.

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Sophia Suvacarov

MSc Project: Photo-physiological responses of coral to transplantation into an extreme and marginal inland bay of Curaçao

My love for the ocean has inspired me from a young age to pursue a career in marine biology, particularly in coral reef research. For my second master's project, I am working under the supervision of Sarah Solomon and Dr. Verena Schoepf to explore the adaptive capacity of Curaçao’s corals to extreme and marginal environmental conditions. I am researching the photo-physiological response of corals over the course of a one-year reciprocal transplant experiment between a fringing reef and an extreme inland bay habitat. Additionally, I am investigating coral photo-physiology and heat tolerance through a ten-day heat stress experiment post-transplantation.

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Isabel Guncay Alvarracin

BSc Student

I am a bachelor student in biology, with a profound interest in marine biology, particularly regarding the resilience of corals. Under the guidance of Dr. Verena Schoepf, Kelly Wong and Sarah Solomon, I am conducting research on the physiological responses of corals to heat stress. I am comparing the physiological responses of corals from Curacao’s inland bays, which endure extreme environmental conditions similar to those induced by climate change, with those from surrounding fringing reefs characterized by milder environmental conditions.

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Former Students and Postdocs

Postdoctoral Fellows

Dr Maite Buchner, 2020 - 2021, joint supervision with Dr Karl Castillo

Graduate Students

Matteo Bravo, 2023, MSc

Emily Croasdale, 2023, MSc

Chris Lippens, 2023, MSc, daily supervisor Sarah Solomon

Laura Misker, 2022, MSc, daily supervisor Sarah Solomon

Wout van der Heide, 2022, MSc, co-supervisor Dr Chris Cornwall

Chiara de Jong, 2021, MSc

Iris van Os, 2021, MSc

Elias Speelman, 2020, MSc

Guadalupe Sepulveda, 2020, MSc

Claire Ross, 2018, PhD, primary supervisor Prof Malcolm McCulloch

Cyrielle Rigal, 2018, MSc

Maria Jung, 2018, MSc

Andrew Warnes, 2017, MSc, co-supervisors Drs Chris Cornwall and Steeve Comeau

Steven Carrion, 2017, MSc         

Morane Le Nohaïc, 2016, MSc

Undergraduate Students

Joe Pilmeijer, 2022

Lena Faber, 2021

Rebecca van Oostveen, 2020

Anna Groen, 2018

Hermione Sanderson, 2018

Ellis Larcombe, 2018

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