Robert K. Trench

Dr. Robert K. Trench

This month’s featured scientist is Dr. Robert K. Trench from the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Trench retired in 2000 but during his time at UC Santa Barbara he made big waves in the field of oceanography, specifically in the study of coral reefs. In fact, Robert Trench earned the reputation as the world’s leading expert on corals and their symbiotic algae, which makes him a perfect fit for our January corals and seas theme!

Corals form highly specific symbioses with small photosynthetic plankton called zooxanthellae. The corals provide these tiny plankton with shelter and the CO2 necessary for photosynthesis. In return, these plankton share food and oxygen created during photosynthesis with their hosts. The variety of zooxanthellae and coral relationships is what contributes to the variety of color you see in coral reefs! The delicate nature of this relationship also contributes to the overall health of coral reefs and can be thrown off by waters that are too warm or too acidic due to human driven climate change.


Born on August 3, 1940 in Belize City, British Honduras, Robert Trench studied at the University of the West Indies, Oxford University, and the University of California at Los Angeles where he earned his doctorate with a dissertation on invertebrate zoology in 1969. Trench’s areas of expertise encompassed coral reef ecology, physiology, biochemistry, phylogenetics of symbiosis, and intercellular recognition phenomena. He published dozens of scientific studies over his career and contributed massively to our understanding of coral reef symbiosis and diversity.

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