Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi

Luke Tornabene

An Outstanding Islander

Outline photo of Luke Tornabene

Searching for Gobies

Marine biology doctoral student Luke Tornabene has traveled the Caribbean in search of gobies, a group of fishes with more than 2,000 species, considered to be one of the most diverse families of vertebrates in the world.

“Gobies can be thought of as ‘masters of adaptation,’ as they have occurred in every aquatic environment you can think of from coral reefs and mangrove swamps to mountain streams and waterfalls,” said Tornabene, a native of Long Island, N.Y.  “Once the specimens are collected, I study their DNA to investigate why gobies in estuaries became so diverse and evolved over time.”

Tornabene, lab manager for the University’s Fish Systematics and Conservation Lab,
describes, classifies, and names new species of fish, explaining their relation to one another. The fish are either collected by Tornabene or have sat for years undescribed in collections around the world.

In two years, Tornabene has identified three new species and one new genus of fish and conducted field work in Florida, Costa Rica, Barbados, Puerto Rico, and French Polynesia. He has participated in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species international workshops, helping assess the extinction risk of fish. The results provide critical information to help protect and manage populations of marine species worldwide.

“If these fish appear threatened, they can become a valuable indicator of the health of the ecosystem,” he said. “By examining these fish, we can begin to understand what is happening in the rest of the environment.”

Since Tornabene earned his master’s degree in biology from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in 2010, he has authored several publications, received grants and scholarships and collaborated with researchers and curators from several major academic institutions and natural history collections including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

“Since starting my master’s degree, I’ve had many opportunities not only to see new places and learn more about my field, but to make connections to people in the fish biology field,” he said. “That has really helped push my career forward.”
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