Marcela Herrera Sarrias

Ph.D. Students



I am originally from Barcelona, Spain, but grew up in Costa Rica, a small country that accounts for only 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface but contains nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity! Early contact with the rainforest and coral reefs pushed me to pursue a BS in Tropical Biology. During my undergraduate studies, I worked in a fisheries research lab where I looked at the distribution, reproduction and feeding ecology of elasmobranchs and other fish species associated to trawling fisheries of my country. After graduating I was lucky to participate in a field course in Singapore and Malaysia, two research fellowships in the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. These experiences reinforced my passion for research and so I decided to apply for a Masters degree at KAUST and joined the Reef Ecology Lab under the supervision of Prof. Michael Berumen, who I worked with in a reef fish population genetics and larval dispersal project.
Over the course of the project, I realized how much I liked being in the lab, and started collaborations in other projects that involved genetics. This new interest lead me to join the Aranda Lab for a PhD, where we study the molecular mechanisms and interactions of coral reefs.

Research Interests

​I'm interested in investigating whether somatic mutations can be a potential evolutionary mechanism for corals to adapt to changes in the environment. By doing Restriction-Associated-DNA sequencing I'm looking at single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in Stylophora pistillata, a coral from the Red Sea that has been used in long-term acidification experiments.

Selected Publications

  • Herrera M, Nanninga GB, Planes S, Jones GP, Thorrold SR, Saenz-Agudelo P, Almany G and Berumen L. (2016). Seascape and life-history traits do no predict self-recruitment in a coral reef fish. Biol. Lett. 12: 20160309
  • Reimer J, Herrera M, Gatins R, Roberts MB, Parkinson JE and Berumen ML. (2016). Latitudinal variation in the symbiotic dinoflagellate Symbiodiniuof the common reef zoantharian Palythoa tuberculosa on the Saudi Arabian coast of the Red Sea. J. Biogeogr. doi:10.1111/jbi.12795  
  • Herrera M, Clarke TM, Naranjo-Elizondo B, Espinoza M and Wehrtmann IS. (2016). Size at maturity of the Pacific bearded brotula (Ophidiidae: Brotula clarkae): a commercially exploited species in the Pacific of Costa Rica. Lat. Am. J. Aquat. Res. 44: 657-661. dii:10.3856/vol44-issue3-fulltext-25
  • Naranjo-Elizondo B, Espinoza M, Herrera M, Clarke TM and Wehrtmann IS. (2016). Feeding habits of the Pacific bearded brotula Brotula clarkae Hubbs, 1944 (Ophidiidae) along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Central America. J. Appl. Ichthyol. 1-9. dii:10.1111/jai.13029
  • Herrera M, Saenz-Agudelo P, Nanninga GB and Berumen ML. (2015). Development of polymorphic microsatellite loci for conservation genetic studies of the coral reef fish Centropyge bicolor. J. Fish Biol. 87: 748–753. doi:10.1111/jfb.12694


  • ​Ph.D. Marine Science - King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia (2015-present)
  • M.Sc. Marine Science - King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia (2012-2014)
  • B.Sc. Biology - Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica (2007-2011)

Research Interests Keywords

Bioinformatics Epigenetics Ecological and Environmental Genomics Climate Change