Congrats to Molly Ashur! 

December 15, 2018

Today Molly published his first research author paper in the journal Behavioral Ecology. This research investigated how the tiny sponge dwelling shrimp select their sponges. These shrimp vacate the sponge at night to run around the reef feeding and mating, but during the day live inside the sponge tubes for protection. Each night the shrimp need to select a new home. Molly did a series of experiments to determine if they use chemical cues, physical cues or visual cues when identifying the perfect day time resting place. This research was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Download the paper here.

Congrats to Lane Johnston, Will Feeney and Rohan Brooker! 

November 27, 2018

Today a few members of the Dixson lab plus a bunch of collaborators published a research paper in the journal Ecology Letters on the use of anemones by coral reef fish species. This research investigated how the threat of predation drives the recurrent use of mutualistic anemone habitat. The work for this research was conducted on the island of Moo’rea. Download the paper here.

Congrats to Paul Leingang (again)! 

November 8, 2018

Today Paul published his first first author paper in the journal Coral Reefs. This research investigated how the tiny coral goby selects the host corals and if the same color preference that was found in Australia is happening in Fiji… spoiler alert, it is not! Download the paper here.

Congrats to Paul Leingang! 

September 28, 2018

Today the Dixson lab graduated another student. Paul successfully defended a very strong Master’s research project investigating how tropical plant vegetation impacts the adjacent coral reef ecosystem. Paul had to learn how to fly drones, map an island and process all of the information he collected. Paul’s research was conducted in Fiji as part of an NIH grant.

New research out by Dr. Dixson! 

June 1, 2018

A new publication is out by Danielle Dixson and her PhD advisor Geoffrey Jones. In this experiment, investigated the influence prior residents had on anemone selection by the Spine-cheek Anemonefish, Premnas biaculeatus. Juvenile fish are able to detect the adults anemonefish using chemical signals (sense of smell). Fish preferred the chemical cues of a single male over a single female, but preferred a single fish of either sex over a pair of anemonefish adults. This was followed up with a field experiment that demonstrated the same settlement preferences.

Congrats to Lane Johnston and Emily Ruhl! 

May 2, 2018

Today the Dixson lab graduated their first students, and they were twins! Lane Johnston and Emily Ruhl both successfully defended their theses on their Master’s research.

Emily’s research project investigated the importance of habitat complexity in the settlement preferences of coral reef fishes and coral larvae. Using 3D printed corals, she was able to isolate complexity from other factors such as coral species, chemical compounds produced by corals and coral inhabitants. Emily’s research was conducted as part of an NIH grant.

Lane’s research investigated the importance of mesopredators on coral reefs. Mesopredators are predators that sit in the middle of the trophic level acting as primary predators to coral reef fish larvae. As corals decline, top predators such as groupers, sharks, etc., are increasingly disappearing. The low numbers of these top predators causes the secondary predator populations to explode. Lane used a variety of techniques to determine the influence these predators had on coral reefs. Lane’s research was conducted in Belize and was in part funded by the Moore Foundation.

Congrats to Master's student Taylor Deemer on his newly funded research grant! 

February 8, 2018

Taylor Deemer, one of the newest master's students in the Dixson Lab, received a prestigious research grant from Delaware Sea Grant for the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve Healthy Coastal Ecosystems Fellowship.  This funding will be used to better understand the role chemical cues play in the habitat selection of temperate fishes, integrating the impact terrestrial derived pollutants have on habitat choice in important fisheries fishes.  We thank Sea Grant for their support and are excited to start the project this spring!

New publication from the Dixson Lab!

October 2, 2017

Dr. Rohan Brooker has published a new article that is available today in Marine Ecology Progress Series.  Here, Brooker, Sih and Dixson worked to understand how coral/algal contact impacts the dietary preferences of an exclusively coralivorous Orange-spot filefish Oxymonacanthus longirostris.  As coral reefs degrade, they are becoming overgrown with algae and loosing important corals.  Previous research by Brooker and Dixson has shown that butterflyfish associate more with corals that that are algae free, even after the algae has been removed, indicating a chemical cue or residual degradation that can be detected by the butterflyfish (this is the basis for Sea Stories: A butterflyfish's journey to find delicious food). In this new study, the authors worked to determine if this same effect was found on exclusive coralivores (fish that only eat coral).  This is important to understand because, coral/algal interactions could weaken the coral from defending itself from being prey, but also if this is the case the added pressure of increased predation could impact the coral's ability to fight the algae.  In contrast, if the coralivores behaviorally avoid the corals in contact with algae, increased pressure could be placed on any of the remaining "algae free" corals.  This could cause the coral to become extremely stressed as their popularity as a feeding ground is increased. 

Coast Day

October 1, 2017

Coast Day was a blast.  The Dixson lab worked super hard to paint the faces of all the little kids and some big kids who came to our space in Cannon 104.  Story time was a success with kids engaged in the storybooks and paying close attention to the science.  Very excited to FINALLY be able to participate in a Coast Day event.  
See you next year- October 7, 2018!

Sea Stories website and running, check it out! 

September 30, 2017

I have been working hard with an amazing website designer to create a special space for Sea Stories on-line.  On this website there is information about the rationale for creating the books, about the authors and the illustrators, links to order all of the books as well as great activities that can be downloaded for free to help cement the science concepts found in the story through additional fun tasks.  
Since, these stories are being read to kids by adults, I have also included information on the studies themselves and some of the press that we have had on the science for additional information. 
Check it out at Https://

Storybook #2 is available right now! 

September 13, 2017

The second book Sea Stories: How the tiny gobies saved their tiny homes can be ordered here.  The illustrations were created by an extremely talented University of Delaware undergraduate student, Maural Sowlat who was able to bring the story four Gobies to life as they work to try to save their coral home from the damaging effects of seaweeds.  This book is the second of the series, which takes one scientific paper and transforms it into a storybook intended for 3-7 year old kids.  

I am very excited about this project, and hope that you are too!  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of books will be used to create new books, and donate books to the local schools where the research was conducted (mostly Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Belize).  

Please contact Dr. Dixson if you would like to schedule an event at your local school, library, aquarium etc. 

Storybook #1 is available right now! 

September 8, 2017

Very excited to announce that a project I have been working on for years, is finally available for purchase.  This first book Sea Stories: A butterflyfish's journey to find delicious food can be ordered here.  The illustrations were created by an extremely talented local high school student, Caroline Cook who was able to bring the story of Buddy the Butterflyfish to life.  This book is the first of the series, all titled Sea Stories, which takes one scientific paper and transforms it into a storybook intended for 3-7 year old kids.  This group of budding scientists are often ignored by scientific outreach, however are our future and getting them excited about research is important.  All books have an about the author section to encourage diversity in STEM.  Did you know that when asked most kids draw a scientist as an old white man, similar to Albert Einstein?  This means that many children can not picture themselves as a scientists.  Books also have a page with facts about the real animals that inspired the storybook characters.  A website is currently under production that will provide more information on the research, free extra materials for the kids (coloring pages, worksheets, and little mini experiments for the tiny scientist) and a link to the actual publication.  

I am very excited about this project, and hope that you are too!  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of books will be used to create new books, and donate books to the local schools where the research was conducted (mostly Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Belize).  

For those of you attending Coast Day 2017, I will be hosting storybook readings, book signings and face painting for kids. Additionally, both books will be available for purchase at the event! Hope to see everyone there. 

Welcome to the Lab! 

February 1, 2017

Today the lab has grown by a lot.  We are excited to have postdoc Dr. Zara Cowan joining us from James Cook University in Australia, master's student Jennifer Joseph from San Diego State University and master's student Taylor Deemer from University of Delaware joining the lab.  Both Zara and Jen will be working on projects based in Belize investigating the role chemical cues play in the recruitment processes and reef health, while Taylor will be working to understand the role chemical cues play in the local temperate environment.  So excited to have new productive members joining the lab!    

Congratulations to Dr. Rohan Brooker for receiving a grant from the Fisheries Society of the British Isles. 

November 21, 2016

Funding has been awarded to Dr. Brooker, a post doc in the Dixson Lab, to continue with a very interesting research project on the link between humans, mangroves and the fish communities in Belize.  This year the committee received the largest ever number of submissions.  Great work, Rohan! Can't wait to hear the results and see the pictures when you return from the fieldwork. 


Congratulations to Dr. Dixson for receiving funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation's Synergy Grants

October 25, 2016

Funding has been awarded to help improve the conservation strategies used on coral reef systems.  Working in partnership with the Smithsonian, Monmouth University and the Nature Conservancy, Dr. Dixson will lead a 3 year long research project titled, "Chemical cues used in settlement site selection on coral reefs could lead to more effective marine management".  This work will focus on understanding chemically mediated behavior, work to isolate specific chemical compounds important in reef selection and inform the local Belizean government on the information being collected.  


Shark project up and running with the help of a FL business

August 5, 2016

The smooth (Mustelus canis) and spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) are common to Delaware Bay and coastal waters through the spring and fall, migrating to the area for pupping and foraging.  Despite their abundance in research, there have been few studies done to better understand the two species in terms of their physiological responses or behavioral changes in relation to anthropogenic climate change.  Relying on evolved sensory organs for food and predator detection as well as navigation, acidic water conditions could drastically affect these traits and reduce their ability to survive.  We are starting  a research project investigating the impact of ocean acidification and temperature on local shark species.  Supported by Delaware mini-SeaGrant and Citimarine Store in Doral FL who donated a Garmin Striker 4dv to help with efforts in shark collection the project is up and running.  Research conducting in this project will be part of Lane Johnston’s Master’s thesis and undergraduate research by University of Delaware's Taylor Deemer.

Remember the true message of Disney's Finding Dory

June 3, 2016

Disney's Finding Dory is set to hit theaters this month.  The movie will bring the ocean to life for million of people, highlighting the beauty and life found on coral reefs.  It is important to remember the main point of both Finding Dory and Finding Nemo- fish belong in the ocean.  Seawater tanks in your home can be an amazing addition.  They are a fun hobby, but do require a considerable financial investment and work.  Remember if you own a saltwater aquarium to purchase captive breed fish when stocking a fish tank.  This means the fish were not removed from the wild population, reducing stress on the coral reef ecosystem.  Removal of individuals from a population can be harmful to the species itself, and the reef in general due to destructive collection methods used in some countries.  In addition, wild caught fish (especially those featured in Finding Dory) are being shipped across the world- not an easy process.  

Anemonefish/clownfish (Nemo) can easily be breed in captivity and require a small amount of space to be happy.  There is no need to purchase clownfish that have been collected from the wild caught.  The Regal Tang (Dory) is NOT able to be breed in captivity.  Regal Tangs also require a lot of space to be happy and therefore are not suitable for home aquariums.  Hear more about this in a interview with Dr Dixson on Delaware Public Media.     

Bleached anemones could me bad news for Anemonefishes

May 2016

A recent study published in Proc B by Dr. Anna Scott (Southern Cross University, Australia) and Dr. Danielle Dixson described the impacts climate change may have on the habitat selection of anemonefishes.  Fish were tested for their ability to distinguish between healthy and bleached anemones through smell alone.  All 5 species of anemonefish preferred the healthy habitat cue over the bleached anemone smell.  Anemonefish are habitat specialist, they only live in anemones.  Within the group of anemonefish species, some are more specialized than others.  The spine-cheek anemonefish is only found in one species of anemone whereas the orange anemonefish is able to use 4 host species.  When fish in this study were presented with the chemical cues of a bleached host species compared to a healthy anemone that is not a host, fish chose the bleached habitat.  This results indicates that anemonefish are very 'hardwired' in their habitat preference and are not flexible in their choice.  If anemonefish live on bleached anemones, they are more vulnerable to predators and could lose their anemone home if the bleaching event is long term.  

This paper received attention in the popular press.  Links are included below. 

Clownfish Conundrum (UDaily)

Nemo can sniff out bleached homes (Cairns Post) 

Saving Nemo (Geographical

Saving Nemo- Bleaching threatens clownfish (Science Daily) ( (Cryptozoology News)

Clownfish vulnerable to increased bleaching (charity owl)

Nemo may be lost (Pittwater News)

Nemo can smell when coral is bleached (The Advocate)

Coral bleaching puts pressure on the survival of iconic anemonefish (Scimex)

Clownfish vulnerable to anemone bleaching (Delaware Public Media)


The Dixson lab is growing! 

March 26, 2016

We are so excited to be expanding this summer and upcoming Fall semester!  Emily Ruhl and Paul Leingang have accepted offers to begin their master's research next semester.  Over the summer we have also accepted 3 University of Delaware Summer Scholars- Lucas Pensinger, Megan Cain and Melanie Brennan.  Lucas and Megan will continue to work with the Dixson lab as Fall Semester in Resident students.  Additionally, two REU students have also accepted offers to work in the Dixson lab.  We are gearing up for a very busy and very productive summer research season! 


Dr. Dixson's radio interview on the importance of outreach

January 8, 2016

It is challenging for scientists to communicate their findings, especially to the general public.  Dr. Dixson has developed a new outreach program geared to describe the scientific findings her lab discovered to young children.  Hear the entire interview here


New study finds that coral and seaweed interactions affect coral associated reef fishes. 

January 4, 2016

Dr. Rohan Brooker's  paper appears in the Nature publication, Scientific Report, is the first to critically evaluate the impact coral-seaweed interactions will have on coral associated reef fishes, a key component of coral reef resilience.  Click here to watch a video interview with Dr. Brooker and Dr. Dixson.   


Dr. Dixson interviewed on educational marine children's books for outreach

December 17, 2015

In trying to make her research more accessible to individuals of all ages and backgrounds, Dr. Dixson has begun to turn her research papers into stories for young children. She was interviewed by DelmarvaNow on this outreach program. Read the article here.


Dr. Dixson briefs White House legislators on ocean acidification

December 2, 2015

Dr. Danielle Dixson had the opportunity to speak with legislators from the House and Senate on her research about ocean acidification while climate talks continue in Paris at COP21. Invited by U.S. Rep. Mark Takai and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Dr. Dixson spoke alongside Rusty Brainard, head of NOAA Hawaii. 

Learn more here.

Dr. Dixson speaking at the White House about ocean acidification. Photo courtesy of UDaily.

Dr. Dixson speaking at the White House about ocean acidification. Photo courtesy of UDaily.

University of Delaware highlights their female research faculty

October 12, 2015

Dr. Danielle Dixson and her work was highlighted in UD's Research Online Magazine among several other women conducting research at the University of Delaware.

Check out the article here:

And for Danielle's individual interview, listen and read here:


Molly Reichert places 2nd in UD's Pitch:90 competition!

November 12, 2015

Molly won second place during UD's elevator competition to explain her research project in 90 seconds or less. She spoke about the importance of understanding coral larvae sensory systems in the face of changing ocean conditions. Congrats Molly!

The winners of the Pitch:90 competition from the College of Earth, Ocean & Environment from the Lewes campus. (From left to right: Molly Reichert, Corie Charpentier, Megan Cimino and Adam Wickline.)

The winners of the Pitch:90 competition from the College of Earth, Ocean & Environment from the Lewes campus. (From left to right: Molly Reichert, Corie Charpentier, Megan Cimino and Adam Wickline.)


Dr. Dixson interviews with WVUD Campus Radio

October 1, 2015

Check out Dr. Dixson's talk on the impacts that climate change and ocean acidification are having on fish and coral larvae!

 Diving Deep: A Conversation with Danielle Dixson


Dixson Lab moves to University of Delaware!

June 1, 2015

The Dixson Lab is excited to announce that we have made the move north to the University of Delaware.  Danielle Dixson has started an Assistant Professor position in the School of Marine Science and Policy.  Danielle, Rohan (post doc) and Molly (PhD student) are very excited to join the Blue Hen community! 


Dixson to feature in NOVA's Lethal Seas documentary on PBS

April 20, 2015

A unique coral garden in Papua New Guinea shows what the future may hold as oceans acidify. This feature will air on May 13, 2015 at 9:00 pm on PBS. For more details, visit this link.


High School Student Designs Website to Educate Public on Great Barrier Reef and Climate Change

Alison Whitehead, a student at Marriots Ridge High School in Marriottsville, MD, is trying to educate the public on the impact climate change will have on the Great Barrier Reef. As part of a class project, she has completed a research paper and a website to be presented at an environmental conference. Over the past few months, Dr. Dixson has served as a resource and expert on the topic. To see Ali's website click here

Post-doc Position Available in Marine Microbiome Research

March 31, 2015

Dr. Frank Stewart & Dr. Danielle Dixson are looking for a postdoctoral fellow to study the microbiome of coral reef fishes. The postdoc will work jointly with both professors to understand the diversity and evolution of the reef fish microbiome and its role in fish health and ecology. Ideal candidates should have a Ph.D. emphasizing microbiome and/or symbiosis research. Additionally, knowledge or background in marine biology and microbial evolution is desirable. The position is targeted to begin in late summer/fall 2015 with funding available for two years pending satisfactory first year progress. Find more information on the position and application here

Dr. Dixson Featured in Georgia Tech Research Horizons

March 26, 2015


Dr. Dixson's research was recently part of a feature focusing on Georgia Tech's Faculty Explorers. In the article, Dr. Dixson discusses some of the adventures that have arisen while working in remote places - such as getting stung in the leg by lionfish. The article also features photos from her time at the Carrie Bow Cay Field Station in Belize where she was study coral larval recruitment. Click here to view the article and photos of life on a tropical field station.


Congratulations to Dr. Dixson on becoming a Sloan Research Fellow! 

March 05, 2015

The Sloan Research Fellowships seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise in the U.S. and Canada.  These two-year fellowships are awarded yearly to 126 researchers in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field. Since 1955, Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win 43 Nobel Prizes, 16 Fields Medals, 65 National Medals of Science, 14 John Bates Clark Medals, and numerous other distinguished awards. Visit this link for more information about the fellowship, and click here to see the 2015 winners listed in the New York Times. 


The Dixson Lab welcomes William Feeney through the 2015 Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarship

February 05, 2015

William Feeney is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland. He completed his PhD at the Australian National University, and held an Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Cambridge. While working with Dixson at Georgia Tech, his research will focus on mutualistic interactions between coral reef fishes. In particular, he will investigate whether interspecies mutualisms predict resilience to a changing environment. For more information, visit this link.


Fish use chemical camouflage from diet to hide from predators

December 10, 2014

Tane_Sinclair-Taylor-9426 (Used for Proc B cover) .jpg

A species of small fish uses coral-scented camouflage to hide from predators, a new study has shown, providing the first evidence of chemical camouflage from diet in fish. “This is the very first evidence of this kind of chemical crypsis from diet in a vertebrate,” said Rohan Brooker, a post-doctoral fellow in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. To read more, visit this link.


Dixson is a partner in the Nifty Fifty program for the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival

September 22, 2014

The Nifty Fifty (times 4) are over 200 of the most dynamic scientists and engineers in the United States. They were selected for their unique ability to inspire the next generation of students to pursue careers in the STEM fields. They were chosen from among thousands of candidates nominated by over 500 leading professional science and engineering societies, universities, research institutions, government agencies, STEM education outreach organizations and leading high tech and life science companies. Visit this link for more details.


Reduced odor tracking in sharks as ocean acidification increases

September 10, 2014

These findings show that shark feeding could be affected by changes in seawater chemistry projected for the end of this century. Understanding the effects of ocean acidification on critical behaviors, such as prey tracking in large predators, can help determine the potential impacts of future ocean acidification on ecosystem function.



Marine protected areas might not be enough to help overfished reefs recover

August 21, 2014

Young corals and fish turned off by smell of damaged habitats

Damaged coral reefs emit chemical cues that repulse young coral and fish, discouraging them from settling in the degraded habitat, according to new research. The study shows for the first time that coral larvae can smell the difference between healthy and damaged reefs when they decide where to settle.

“If you’re setting up a marine protected area to seed recruitment into a degraded habitat, that recruitment may not happen if young fish and coral are not recognizing the degraded area as habitat,” said Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and the study's first author.