Mary Alice Coffroth


Mary Alice Coffroth, UB professor of geology

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

My major roles in advocating sustainability at UB are two-fold.  Firstly, I teach  (or co-teach) several classes that introduce the concept of sustainability and present a range of ecological concepts that are essential in understanding the role of all organisms in maintaining a sustainable environment (Ecology, Ecological Methods, Marine Ecology and Advanced Ecology).  In each of these courses we also cover the effects that climate change is having on communities and the role of anthropogenic factors in this.  Secondly, I established and until this month, directed the Undergraduate major in Environmental Geoscience.  This major is an interdisciplinary degree program with a curriculum that is specifically designed to prepare students for leadership positions across a broad range of environmental fields.

What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?

My research focuses on corals and coral reefs.  Reef-building corals form an intimate association with single-celled algae that are required for reef corals to survive.  This symbiosis breaks down at elevated temperatures, leading to coral demise.  One aspect of my studies examines how these important symbioses are established and how they will respond to the increased sea surface temperatures associated with climate change.  Knowing this will give us insight into how to make reefs more sustainable. 

How are students involved in your sustainability work?

In addition to teaching a range of ecology courses, I routinely have several undergraduate and graduate students working in my lab conducting research on the coral-algal symbioses.  These projects include field and laboratory experiments to examine the effect of increased temperature on the coral-algal partnership and studies to determine the factors that govern the initial establishment of this symbiosis.

What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?

I recycle everything possible, compost, carpool and bike commute to UB whenever possible.

How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

UB is doing a good job, but there is always more to do - more “green” buildings, less salt on roads and sidewalks, more public transport to decrease the number of cars on campus.

Learn more about Coffroth's research.