Getting to Know U

Herman Wirshing

Getting to Know U

Herman Wirshing

Hometown:
Miami, FL
Intended Degree:
Ph.D. Marine Biology and Fisheries

Herman Wirshing

The tropics have always been a part of Herman Wirshing’s life. He was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and grew up in Miami, Florida. Spending much of his youth on the beaches of his native Caribbean island and exploring the waters of the Florida Keys, Herman developed a fascination with coral reefs and all of the peculiar organisms found in these environments. This fascination eventually lead him to focus his major in biology at Florida State University on marine systems. “As an undergraduate, I fostered an innate interest in the biodiversity and evolution of marine invertebrates, particularly corals and their taxonomic relatives,” said Wirshing. As a masters student at Nova Southeastern University, he studied the field of molecular systematics. His research used DNA sequences from gorgonian octocorals in order to infer evolutionary relationships among these coral reef dwelling organisms. “This field of research allows scientists to better understand the ‘family tree’ of these reef animals, and provides a means to better assess biodiversity in terms of natural evolutionary groupings”, Wirshing added.

At RSMAS, Wirshing is continuing his work on the molecular evolution of corals and octocorals. He dissertation research focuses on the evolutionary relationships of these organisms at three different levels of resolution — (1) ancient (hundreds of millions of years) evolutionary relationships, (2) species boundaries, and (3) within species (population genetics) associations. For example, Wirshing is interested in the evolution of the coral’s skeleton. He is using DNA sequenced from genes involved in making coral skeletons to see whether the evolution of these genes correlates to the morphological diversity of coral skeletons found in many different groups of corals. Similarly, Wirshing is examining the evolutionary boundaries between three species of octocorals found in the genus Pterogorgia by using genetic data from three genes and the morphology of their skeletal components known as sclerites. Lastly, Wirshing is studying the genetic connectivity of the octocoral, Plexaura flexuosa, across the Florida reef tract from Key Biscayne to Key West. This work will provide data to help identify reefs that may be acting as sources of larvae to other reefs, and reefs that may be sinks (i.e. depend on other reefs for new recruits into the population). This information can be used to supplement conservation and management designs in order to better safeguard the valuable resources of Florida’s reefs.

Finally, when Wirshing is not hidden in the laboratory, he also likes to play and compose music. “I play the electric bass and guitar, and like to play improvisational jazz fusion,” Wirshing said. You can listen to recordings he composed and recorded at http://www.myspace.com/plexaura.

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