Marine Benthic Ecology and Ecophysiology

Yvonne Sawall is the principle investigator of the Marine Benthic Ecology and Ecophysiology (MABEE) Laboratory at ASU BIOS. Her research focuses on shallow water coral reefs and seagrass meadows integrating aspects of physiology, ecology and oceanography.  The overarching question of her research is how organisms and communities interact with their environment, while focusing primarily on key metabolic processes (photosynthesis, respiration and calcification) of foundation species (corals and seagrass). Understanding responses of corals and seagrass to persisting and changing environmental conditions is of paramount importance, since they form the basis of ecologically and economically important ecosystems, that are exposed to increasing threat of local and global stressors. Hence the mission of the MABEE lab is to elucidate potential impacts of global change on important coastal ecosystems by understanding strategies and limitations of keystone organisms and of benthic communities to respond to different environmental conditions.

Currently, the MABEE lab pursues three lines of research, which include

(i) organismal and community metabolism and their drivers in coral reefs,
(ii) coral thermal tolerance and thermal stress mitigation, and
(iii) seagrass functional processes and restoration.

The MABEE lab applies a number of state-of-the-art and cutting-edge approaches and is particularly invested in developing and applying in-situ technologies, such as the gradient flux technique to measure reef productivity and a novel fully automated in-situ incubation set up (BIO-RESORT) that allows in-situ metabolic rate and flux measurements. Instruments for continues monitoring of in-situ environmental conditions (Seabird SeapHOx, McLane RAS water samplers) are part of the lab, as well. Furthermore, a range of organism-specific methods are utilized to elucidate physiological mechanisms of stress responses that are conducted on living organisms (e.g, PAM fluorometry, incubations, growth rates, etc.) or on sacrificed tissue (e.g., pigment analysis, biomass determination, proteomics). The recently upgraded “Bermuda Marine Mesocosm Facility” (BMMF) supports novel and near-natural Climate Change research and more.

Funded projects at ASU BIOS (2016)

Current projects

2023 – 2026 NSF (National Science Foundation) Program: Environmental Sustainability. AU Coral project. Assessing the potential of artificial upwelling (AU) to mitigate coral bleaching during heat waves. Grant no.: #2320629. PI: Y Sawall; post-doc: Chloe Carbonne. Value: US$ 663,000.

2022 – 2025 Heising-Simons Foundation International. ENCORE – Enhancing coral resilience. PIs: Y Sawall, Samantha de Putron (BIOS), Hollie Putnam (University of Rhode Island), Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley (Central Caribbean Marine Institute); post-doc: Brett Jameson. Value: US$1,240,000

2021 – 2024 NSF Program: Chemical Oceanography. Eddy Reef project. Collaborative Research: In Situ Investigations and Historical Analysis of Eddy Impacts on coastal carbon chemistry and coral calcification. Grant no.: #2123697, PI: Y Sawall, co-PIs: Damian Grundle (BIOS/ASU), Nathalie Goodkin (American Museum of Natural History). Value: US$ 721,000

2021 – 2023 NSF Program: Infrastructure Capacity for Biological Research. Bermuda Marine Mesocosm Facility upgrade. Major improvements of the outdoor mesocosm facility at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. Grant no.: 2129274, PI: Y Sawall, co-PI: Samantha de Putron (BIOS). Value: US$343,000.

Past projects

2020 - 2021  BIOS Cawthorn Research Innovation Fund. Advancements in understanding in-situ organism metabolic rates via innovative incubation chambers and an oxygen isotope tracer approach. PI: Y Sawall; co-PI: Tim Noyes (BIOS); in collaboration with Prof. (Emeritus) Michael Bender (Princeton). Value: US$ 150,000.

2017 – 2019 DFG (German Research Foundation) funded Future Ocean Cluster of Excellence. AU Reef. Is artificial upwelling a solution to coral bleaching threat? PI: Yuming Feng (GEOMAR); Collaborators: Y Sawall, Mario Lebrato (GEOMAR). Value: € 140,000 (no overhead included)

2017 - 2019  BIOS Cawthorn Research Innovation Fund. Improving reef calcification measurements and exploring dynamics of reef functioning. PIs: Y Sawall, EJ Hochberg, N Bates. Value: US$ 150,000.

2016 – 2019 NASA Earth Venture Suborbital-2 (EVS-2) Project. Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL). PI: Eric Hochberg. Value: US$ 15,000,000 – Sawall was post-doc of the project


Students interested in pursuing a PhD in my lab, please contact Dr. Yvonne Sawall.

Program Contact

Dr. Yvonne Sawall
Assistant Scientist, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences
Assistant Professor, School of Ocean Futures
School of Life Sciences
Senior Global Futures Scientist, Global Futures Scientists and Scholars


Laboratory Members

Chloe Carbonne (post-doc)

Brett Jameson (post-doc)

Roderick Bakker (Technician)

Moriah Kunes (co-supervised PhD student, Princeton Univ.)

Shalimar Giovanna Moreno (co-supervised PhD student, East Carolina Univ.)

In The News

The 2022 BIOS National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) internship program ran for 12 weeks from August 29 through November 19. Designed to provide undergraduates with experience conducting independent scientific research, the BIOS REU program also incorporates opportunities for students to develop valuable skills that will serve them in graduate school or STEM careers. Many BIOS REU participants also walk away with lasting friendships. “I was particularly impressed with how quickly all the REUs bonded and formed a capable and supportive team,” said Luísa Castro-Meirelles, a third-year student at the College of William & Mary. “I was able to be surrounded by exceptional interns who challenged and enriched my own experiences.”

Undergraduate Interns Leave BIOS With Key Skills, Lasting Friendships

A three-year investigation began at BIOS over the summer looking at coral resilience; specifically, what natural capacity corals have to respond to marine heatwaves, and if human interventions can enhance corals’ tolerance to heat. Funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation International, Ltd., the multi-institutional research team includes (from left to right) coral molecular ecologist Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, director of research at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI); BIOS marine ecologist and associate scientist Samantha de Putron; marine ecophysiologist Hollie Putnam, associate professor at the University of Rhode Island (URI); and BIOS marine benthic ecologist and assistant professor Yvonne Sawall. Currently, the project is supporting four interns participating in BIOS’s National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, an annual 12-week internship program that takes place during the fall semester.

Work Begins on Investigation into Coral Resilience Against Climate Warming


ASU Announces New School of Ocean Futures

The BIOS National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program got underway in late August when nine students from universities across the U.S., and including Puerto Rico, arrived on campus. The annual 12-week internship program provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to participate in research projects under the mentorship of BIOS faculty. The 2022 BIOS REU program features three research themes in coral reef science.

Nine Undergraduate Students Receive NSF Support for Research Internships at BIOS

Beginning in June, with support from Heising-Simons Foundation International, Ltd. a multi-institution team of scientists will investigate how corals respond to thermal stress events. A large part of the research at BIOS will take place at the Institute’s state-of-the-art mesocosm facility, which allows the team to place live corals in aquaria where they can control and manipulate a suite of environmental variables, such as temperature, pH, and light.

New Grant Supports Research into Coral Resilience and Climate Change

Seven students who participated in the BIOS 2021 summer Coral Reef Ecology course are celebrating their contribution to the 2022 Ocean Sciences Meeting conference proceedings after submitting two abstracts based on their experiences in Bermuda. Both were accepted for oral presentations at the international conference, which was held in a virtual format for nine days beginning February 24. One abstract focuses on the scientific research they conducted during the three-week course, while the other highlights the benefits of intensive summer courses for early-career scientists. “I wasn’t quite ready to leave BIOS and disconnect from all the wonderful people I met and valuable connections I made there, so I was excited for this opportunity to keep working with our BIOS cohort,” said Emma Korein, 29, a first-year doctoral student at the University of Delaware (bottom row in bright pink shirt).

BIOS Coral Reef Ecology Students Make a Splash at International Science Conference

For 12 weeks last fall, a group of nine undergraduate students took part in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at BIOS. This annual program pairs students with BIOS faculty and research staff, allowing participants to undertake research projects while also gaining fundamental skills such as experimental design, record-keeping, scientific writing, and public speaking. Last year featured a new collaborative program design around three broad research themes: biological production and exports, coral reef systems ecology, and plastics in the marine environment.

Fall Interns Team up for Ocean Science Research Experiences

A grant from the National Science Foundation will bring a series of improvements to the outdoor mesocosm facility over the coming year. Under the supervision of associate scientist Yvonne Sawall (left) and associate scientist & assistant director of university programs Samantha de Putron, the facility is set to be transformed into the Bermuda Marine Mesocosm Facility—a larger, more flexible outdoor space in which scientists can perform a wide range of research on the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems. Sawall shows living coral specimens to a group of students from The Berkeley Institute during a field trip funded by the BIOS Curriculum Enrichment Program.

Grant Brings Upgrades to Benthic Ecology Research Facility at BIOS

This year, seventeen Bermudian students were selected to participate in the BIOS Bermuda Program, an intensive summer internship program that gives students the opportunity to conduct scientific research projects under the mentorship of BIOS faculty and research staff. Iziah Tucker, a first year Bermuda Program intern, works with his mentor Rachel Parsons in the BIOS Microbial Ecology Laboratory on a project investigating how microbes colonize microplastics in the marine environment.

A Summer of STEM