Gray A. Williams
I’ve been working in Hong Kong for 30 years and have spent most of this time trying to place tropical, monsoonal shores within the context of generally accepted patterns in intertidal ecology. Coming originally from a temperate background, my perceptions were changed arriving to the hot and barren shores that we find in Hong Kong during the hot season which contrast strongly with the vibrant life that we find in the cool winter season. The speed at which assemblages change, the high summer mortalities and then rapid winter recovery makes an incredibly dynamic system where species adopt a ‘live fast die young strategy’.
Trying to piece all these things together has proved challenging. Unlike in many temperate areas, the taxonomy of species in this region is poorly understood and even less is known of their ecologies. To try and document these patterns our group has spent a lot of time detailing the basic ecology of species in the region; much in collaboration with a great set of colleagues in Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, China and Malaysia. This information is so important when we try and interpret community patterns and yet seems to be out of fashion these days! From these studies we have focused on a few aspects, mostly around species behaviour and physiology, related to surviving in the extremes of a tropical intertidal zone. Inevitably, this work has mostly concentrated on rocky shore limpets and snails; but we have branched out to sandy shore crabs; mangrove snails and even vertebrates in the form of mudskippers at times……
Recently, studies have widened to consider how changing environmental conditions are affecting species responses over geographic ranges (working from Singapore to northern China) and currently to the survival strategies of high shore species, which are living in extreme harsh environments on tropical shores. As ever, these studies are revealing exciting findings and always challenging paradigms associated with temperate regions. Hopefully the insights we gain, as the world becomes a warmer place, will play an important role in how we can perhaps anticipate and manage future changes to species distributions, especially in understudied tropical areas.
I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Tropical Intertidal Ecology group, SWIMS, HKU. I am interested in the behavioural ecology of intertidal animals, in particular how they acquire food and avoid physical stress in the highly variable and stressful tropical intertidal environment. Using a variety of modelling and experimental approaches, I am also interested in modelling animals’ behavioural patterns based on their decision-making processes to understand how they can survive and persist in the harsh intertidal environment.
Senior Research Assistant
I have just completed my MSc research on coral trophic dynamics and feeding behaviour at University College Cork, Ireland in partnership with St. John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, Singapore. Growing up on the South-West coast of Ireland, I developed a passion for marine conservation while exploring the nooks and crevices of the rocky shore. My interests lie in the role interconnectivity plays in community trophic dynamics, examining the physiological and behavioural responses of organisms over extended periods of time. I join the TIDE team bringing my previous experience in the field of biology and outreach education spanning mangrove, desert, seashore and woodland habitats.
I am a PhD candidate in TIDE group and I am currently investigating the thermal refuge usage and metabolic strategy of a high shore limpet against heat stress. Apart from conventional field survey techniques, I am also eager to learn advanced technologies that can be used for efficient environmental conditions estimation and prediction, like topography mapping. Moreover, I am interested in the population genetics of intertidal organisms regarding oceanography and organisms' life histories.
I have always been fascinated by the dynamic responses of organisms to environmental changes and how intertidal organisms manage to thrive in among the most thermally harsh environments. My work focused primarily on the thermal biology of tropical littorinid snails in Hong Kong, which endure extreme heat in the summer as well as a massive change in thermal regimes across seasons. In particular, I investigated their seasonal behavioural patterns and studied how their behaviour and physiology change with temperature in order to elucidate their survival strategies in such a dynamic and stressful environment.
I am currently registered as a PhD student at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in South Africa, co-supervised by Richard Greenfield and Gray. I am looking at the synergistic/antagonistic effects of climate change and marine pollutants in molluscs along the rocky shore coastline of South Africa. The project aims to look at the temperature threshold of both Siphonaria capensis and Scutellastra granularis, the effect an increase in cadmium chloride concentration has on the exposed organisms as well as to determine any physiological changes the organisms undergo as a result of increased temperatures and cadmium chloride concentrations. My studies continue to strengthen my interests in the survivability and adaptability of molluscs on rocky shores, living in often unimaginably harsh natural conditions.
I am pursuing my PhD with the TIDE group having completed a BSc at The University of New South Wales. I am interested in community ecology, which is about how species interact between each other. My previous work was to investigate how positive and negative interactions influence the realised community structure on soft sediment shores. In my new PhD position I will examine the thermal physiology of bivalves, as well as their strategies to survive under extreme conditions. From there, I will investigate how such traits in the bivalves will have knock-on effects on intertidal community structure.
I conducted my MPhil with the TIDE group studying the effects of changing environmental condition on energy budget of an ecologically and commercially important species. I am also interested in marine biodiversity. I am currently working in the group as a research assistant to investigate the ecological status of the Tolo Harbour area in Hong Kong and to establish an education tool to promote marine biodiversity of the Harbour area to the general public.
My major duty in the TIDE Group now is to prepare for a coming ECF project on evaluating Hong Kong rocky shore biodiversity. Amongst various ecological topics, community ecology is the most interesting to me. I am interested in studying how different biotic and abiotic forces shape what we see on the shore. My coming MPhil project, funded by the ECF project mentioned above, will contain an independent part of studying interactions between biological and environmental variables.
Aiming to promote the importance of conservation and the beauty of nature by public education, I am currently working in the TIDE group to assist the establishment of educational tools for marine biodiversity in Hong Kong. I am interested in topics such as population genetics as well as the species survivability to the dynamic yet extreme climate. I am also interested in the soft shore habitat - seagrass bed and to investigate their ability to modify the physical environment on the shore.
Back in 2017, when I participated in the Ting Kok Coastal Conservation Plan as a helper in the TIDE group, I was intrigued by the dynamic environment and the wide variety of organisms on rocky shores. Now, I work as a research assistant in an ECF funded project to study species richness along tidal heights on rock shores across Hong Kong. I am interested in using new techniques to study the relationship between topology and species richness.
I conducted my final year research project under the supervision of the TIDE group in 2020, investigating the “standing” behaviour of hermit crabs in which they maintain a suboptimal body temperature to avoid heat stress in the highly variable tropical intertidal environment. I am currently working in the group to assist the newly established ECF project on Hong Kong rocky shore biodiversity. I am obsessed with the behavioural ecology of intertidal organisms, in particulate predator-prey interaction and resource competition, which determine the distribution of all species and form astonishing zones on the shore.