Dr. Tom Shlesinger

School of Zoology
The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History
ביה"ס לזואולוגיה סגל אקדמי בכיר


I am a marine ecologist, an underwater photographer, and a naturalist, fascinated by coral-reef ecosystems. My interest in corals commenced years before I started my academic path—while I was working as the chief diver of a commercial diving team in an international company of public aquaria, where I spent much of my time nurturing corals.

I joined Tel Aviv University in January 2023 as a senior lecturer (or assistant professor) with a joint affiliation position at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and the School of Zoology. I was trained as an undergrad (B.Sc.) at the Michmoret School of Marine Sciences, Ruppin Academic Center. For my M.Sc., I practiced and developed underwater photographic methods to study the demographic processes of corals in the wild. During my Ph.D., I focused on studying the spatio-temporal variation in coral reproduction while performing long-term studies of multiple aspects of coral reproductive ecology across a large depth gradient spanning shallow to deep, mesophotic reefs (~0-60 m depth). In my postdoctoral position at the Florida Institute of Technology, USA, I decided to pivot from classical ecological experiments and fieldwork into ecological-statistical modeling to grow my skills and expand my toolbox.



Education & Appointments

2023-Present  Senior Lecturer / Assistant Professor; School of Zoology and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv University.

2019-2022       Post-doctoral fellow; Institute for Global Ecology, Florida Institute of Technology. Host: Prof. Rob van Woesik.

2014-2019       Ph.D.; School of Zoology, Tel Aviv University. Advisor: Prof. Yossi Loya.

2011-2013       M.Sc. (magna cum laude); Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University. Advisor: Prof. Yossi Loya

2008-2011       B.Sc. (magna cum laude); Marine Sciences, Michmoret School of Marine Sciences, Ruppin Academic Center


Academic Experience

  • Member: IUCN Coral Specialist Group, estimating the status and extinction risk of scleractinian corals worldwide. 2019-present.
  • Session chair at the annual meeting of the Israeli Association for Aquatic Sciences, Tel Aviv, Israel. 2024.
  • Session chair at the International Coral Reef Symposium, Bremen, Germany. 2022.
  • Member: committee deciding Hebrew names of corals and recommending to the Academy of the Hebrew Language. 2020-2022.
  • Co-organizer: NSF-funded workshop on coral bleaching as part of the Coral Bleaching Research Coordination Network, USA. 2021.
  • Scientific editor: ‘Reflections Underwater’, a popular science book by Oded Degany. 2020.
  • Mentoring four undergraduate research projects, Tel Aviv University. 2017-2019.
  • Co-organizer: coral taxonomy workshop at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel. 2016.
  • Assistant and Lecturer in the Following Courses: 
  1. "Ecological Camp", Tel Aviv University. 2024.
  2. "Invertebrates", Tel Aviv University. 2024.
  3. ‘Coral biology and ecology’, Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat. 2016-2024.
  4. "Marine Biology", Tel Aviv University. 2023.
  5. "Ecological processes in the Red Sea", Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat. 2022.
  6. "Introduction to statistics and visualizations with R", Tel Aviv University. 2016-2018.
  7. "Biostatistics", Tel Aviv University. 2013.
  8. "Ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea", Michmoret School of Marine Sciences, Ruppin Academic Center. 2012-2013.


Fellowships & Awards

2023    Alon Fellowship for outstanding young researchers, the Council for Higher Education of Israel

2020    Coral Reef “Hero” awarded by ECO magazine in recognition as one of the top eight coral reef research contributors worldwide.

2019    Dan David Award in the ‘future’ category ‘combating climate change’ (unable to receive due to relocation to the US).

2017–2019      Israel Taxonomy Initiative (ITI) PhD Scholarship.

2018    Rieger-JNF Fellowship in Environmental Studies.

2018    Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat visiting PhD grant.

2018    Tel Aviv University Excellence in Research Award.

2018    PADI Foundation Grant.

2017    Rieger-JNF Fellowship in Environmental Studies.

2017    Best oral presentation award, the 14th meeting of the Israeli Association for Aquatic Sciences.

2017    Lev Fishelson Travel Grant, Tel-Aviv.


Outreach & Science Communications – selected highlights

2023    Interview on how lunar cycles guide the spawning of corals on Knowable and Smithsonian magazines.

2023    Shotkit - blog feature "Inside my camera bag".

2023    Interview regarding the process of giving Hebrew names to corals on Kan News and Ynet.

2023    Ynet: Interview regarding coral spawning and winning in an international photo competition.

2022    Dive photo guide - blog feature.

2021    Mozaik UW cameras – blog feature.

2020    iDIVE, Israel’s diving magazine: "Welcome to the coral reefs of Eilat".

2020    Today’s Science: Interview regarding how I began my career in marine ecology.

2019    China Life Magazine: Interview regarding the life of a traveling researcher-photographer.

2019    Out of Tune: Short video I produced to present my paper published in Science — Breakdown in spawning synchrony: A silent threat to coral persistence. Additional coverage in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Frankfurter, Science News, Egyptian Today, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Haaretz, Ynet, and Maariv.

2019    Mesophotic.org: Interview regarding research on deep coral reefs.

2017    Ynet: Special article for Valentine’s Day on courtship and reproduction of marine animals.

2016    Mako: Article regarding my MSc findings of positive signs of recovery in the coral reefs of Eilat.

Research Interests

Most of the lab’s work is focused on the backbone of the underwater tropical world: stony corals. They are the engineers, architects, and artists who build and maintain the complex reef structures and breathe life into them. Coral reefs host a disproportionate amount of the global marine biodiversity, as well as providing a wealth of services to humans worldwide, and they are widely recognized for their importance and value. Coral reefs, however, are also among the most rapidly degrading ecosystems due to multiple local and global threats. While much is known about corals and coral reefs, we are often surprised by their response to changes or disturbances—sometimes by their decline and sometimes by their resilience, highlighting that there are still fundamental gaps in our understanding of these ecosystems.

Our group’s main interest lies in the evolution of marine animals’ life histories, particularly the sexual reproduction of reef-building corals, and how these respond to environmental changes. More broadly, we study coral evolutionary ecology and biology, life histories, larval behavior, dispersal, taxonomy, and biodiversity using a mixture of experiments, fieldwork, lab work, and computational-statistical models. The overarching goals of the lab are to: (i) extend our fundamental biological and ecological knowledge regarding coral reproduction strategies and life-history trade-offs under varying conditions; (ii) predict the fate of coral populations and communities; (iii) provide useful tools to guide coral-reef conservation and management; (iv) promote a better understanding of natural ecosystems surrounding us from the cellular level through to the individual organism, population, community, and the ecosystem as a whole.


T. Shlesinger, R. van Woesik (2023) Oceanic differences in coral-bleaching responses to marine heatwaves. Science of the Total Environment 871:162113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.162113


H. Rapuano*, T. Shlesinger*, L. Roth, O. Bronstein, Y. Loya (2023) Coming of age: Annual onset of coral reproduction is determined by age rather than size. iScience 26:106533. https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.isci.2023.106533


R. van Woesik and T. Shlesinger (2023) Bleaching of the world's coral reefs. In: C. Hockadat and R. Sivampillai (eds.) Biological and Environmental Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Elsevier, pp. 251-271. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-820509-9.00011-3


R. van Woesik, T. Shlesinger, AG Grottoli, RJ Toonen, R Vega Thurber, M Warner, et al. (2022) Coral-bleaching responses to climate change across biological scales. Global Change Biology 28:4229–4250. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16192


S. Comeau, C.E. Cornwall, T. Shlesinger, M. Hoogenboom, M.T. McCulloch, R. Rodolfo-Metalpa (2022) pH variability at volcanic CO2 seeps regulates coral calcifying fluid chemistry and species composition. Global Change Biology 28:2751-2763. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16093.


R. Liberman*, T. Shlesinger*, Y. Loya, Y. Benayahu (2022) Soft coral reproductive phenology along a depth gradient: Can “going deeper” provide a viable refuge? Ecology 103:e3760. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.3760.


A.H. Baird, et al. (2021) A coral spawning calendar for Sesoko Station, Okinawa, Japan. Galaxea, Journal of Coral Reef Studies 24:41–49. https://doi.org/10.3755/galaxea.g2021_s10o.


M.K. Donovan, D.E. Burkepile, C. Kratochwill, T. Shlesinger, S. Sully, T.A. Oliver, G. Hodgson, J. Friewald, R. van Woesik (2021) Local conditions magnify coral loss following marine heatwaves. Science 372:977-980. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abd9464.


T. Shlesinger, R. van Woesik (2021) Different population trajectories of two reef-building corals with similar life-history traits. Journal of Animal Ecology 90:1379-1389. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.13463.


M. Grinblat, I. Cooke, T. Shlesinger, O. Ben-Zvi, Y. Loya, D.J. Miller, P.F. Cowman (2021) Biogeography, reproductive biology and phylogenetic divergence within the Fungiidae (mushroom corals). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 164:107265. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2021.107265.


T. Shlesinger, D. Akkaynak, Y. Loya (2021) Who is smashing the reef at night? A nocturnal mystery. Ecology 102:e03420. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.3420.


T. Shlesinger and Y. Loya (2021) Depth-dependent parental effects create invisible barriers to coral dispersal. Communications Biology 4:202. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-021-01727-9.


A.H. Baird, et al. (2021) An Indo-Pacific spawning database. Scientific Data 8:35. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-020-00793-8.


L. Eyal-Shaham, G. Eyal, O. Ben-Zvi, K. Sakai, S. Harii, F. Sinniger, M. Hirose, P. Cabaitan, O. Bronstein, B. Feldman, T. Shlesinger, O. Levy, Y. Loya (2020) A unique breeding strategy in the scleractinian mushroom coral Fungia fungites. Coral Reefs 39:1793-1804. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-020-02004-7.


R. Prasetia, Z-W. Lim, A. Teo, T. Shlesinger, Y. Loya, P.A. Todd (2020) Population dynamics and growth rates of free-living mushroom corals (Scleractinia: Fungiidae) in the sediment-stressed reefs of Singapore. Advances in Marine Biology 87:115-140. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.amb.2020.08.002.


T. Shlesinger and Y. Loya (2019) Breakdown in spawning synchrony: A silent threat to coral persistence. Science 365:1002-1007. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aax0110.


L. Eyal-Shaham, G. Eyal, K. Sakai, Y. Nozawa, S. Harii, F. Sinniger, O. Bronstein, O. Ben-Zvi, T. Shlesinger, Y. Loya (2019) Repetitive sex change in the stony coral Herpolitha limax across a wide geographic range. Scientific Reports 9:2936. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-37619-y.


T. Shlesinger and Y. Loya (2019) Sexual reproduction of scleractinian corals in mesophotic coral ecosystems vs. shallow reefs. In: Y. Loya, K.A. Puglise, T.C.L. Bridge (eds.) Mesophotic coral ecosystems of the World, Springer, pp. 653-666. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-92735-0_35.


S.E. Kahng, D. Akkaynak, T. Shlesinger, E. Hochberg, J. Wiedenmann, R. Tamir, D. Tchernov (2019) Light, temperature, photosynthesis, heterotrophy, and the lower depth limit of mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs). In: Y. Loya, K.A. Puglise, T.C.L. Bridge (eds.) Mesophotic coral ecosystems of the World, Springer, pp. 801-828. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-92735-0_42.


T. Shlesinger and Y. Loya (2018) Mass medusae release and temporal reproductive segregation of the three Red Sea fire corals. Ecology 100:e02581. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2581.


R. Liberman, T. Shlesinger, Y. Loya, Y. Benayahu (2018) Octocoral sexual reproduction: temporal disparity between mesophotic and shallow populations. Frontiers in Marine Science 5:445. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2018.00445.


R. Arrigoni, D. Maggioni, S. Montano, B.W. Hoeksema, D. Seveso, T. Shlesinger, T. Terraneo, M.D. Tietbohl, M.L. Berumen (2018) An integrated morpho-molecular approach to delineate species boundaries of Millepora from the Red Sea. Coral Reefs 37:967-984. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-018-01739-8.


B. Feldman, T. Shlesinger, Y. Loya (2018) Mesophotic environment depress the reproduction of the coral Paramontastraea peresi in the Red Sea. Coral Reefs 37:201-214. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1648-8.


T. Shlesinger, M. Grinblat, H. Rapuano, T. Amit, Y. Loya (2018) Can mesophotic reefs replenish degraded shallow reefs? Reduced coral reproductive performance casts a doubt. Ecology 99:421-437. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2098.


T. Shlesinger, N. Shenkar, Y. Loya (2017) Gamete spawning of the ascidian Phalusia nigra in the Red Sea. Bulletin of Marine Science 93:959-960. https://doi.org/10.5343/bms.2017.1009.


D. Akkaynak, T. Treibitz, T. Shlesinger, R. Tamir, Y. Loya, D. Iluz (2017) What is the space of attenuation coefficients in underwater computer vision? Proceedings of the IEEE Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference, Honolulu, Hawaii, July 2017. https://doi.org/10.1109/cvpr.2017.68.


H. Rapuano, I. Brickner, T. Shlesinger, E. Meroz-Fine, R. Tamir, Y. Loya (2017) Reproductive strategies of the coral Turbinaria reniformis in the northern Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea). Scientific Reports 7:42670. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep42670.


T. Shlesinger, O. Bronstein, Y. Loya (2016) Spawning behavior of the sand dollar Sculpsitechinus auritus (Leske, 1778). Coral Reefs 35:327. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-016-1399-y.


T. Shlesinger and Y. Loya (2016) Recruitment, mortality, and resilience of scleractinian corals at Eilat, Red Sea. Coral Reefs 35:1357-1368. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-016-1468-2.



Non-peer-reviewed publications


R. Liberman, T. Shlesinger, Y. Loya, Y. Benayahu (2022) Exploring coral reproduction in great depth. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 103:e02008. https://doi.org/10.1002/bes2.2008.


T. Shlesinger (2022) אלמוגים ושוניות אלמוגים (in English: Corals and coral reefs) book chapter in Hebrew for a high school marine science textbook in Israel; pp. 34


T. Shlesinger, D. Akkaynak, Y. Loya (2021) Nightly reef breaker: The cryptic behavior of a coral-reef crab. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 102:e01914. https://doi.org/10.1002/bes2.1914.


T. Shlesinger, Y. Loya (2019) Mass medusae release and temporal reproductive segregation of the three Red Sea fire corals. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 100:e01508. https://doi.org/10.1002/bes2.1508.


Tel Aviv University makes every effort to respect copyright. If you own copyright to the content contained
here and / or the use of such content is in your opinion infringing, Contact us as soon as possible >>