We focus on the causes and consequences of biodiversity change in marine ecosystems, with the goal of developing science-based tools to inform conservation and restoration under global change. Our lab uses a range of methods—including behavioural observation, field experiments, theoretical and statistical models, stakeholder surveys, and studies along environmental disturbance gradients— to understand how drivers like biological invasion, climate change, and harvesting are altering the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems and the goods and services they provide to people. Our projects feature strong partnerships with practitioners and local community members to ensure that the research addresses practical information needs, as well as intriguing ecological questions. We also pair ecological and social science approaches to understand the consequences of conservation and restoration interventions for coupled human-natural systems.
Unprecedented rates of global climate change (climate, biological invasion, exploitation) are now pushing species’ ranges and densities far outside historical variation. How will ecosystems and the resources we derive from them respond? A key challenge for tackling this question is a lack of general principles from which to predict the strength of novel interactions as species encounter one another for the first time within re-assembled food webs. Our research is tackling this issue by investigating the role traits (behavioural, morphological, physiological, and life history) play in determining the strength of interactions within marine food webs. This work will facilitate predictions of ecosystem structure and function under future global change scenarios that account for the important influence of biotic interactions. One of our core projects in this theme focuses on the effects of climate change on the distribution of predatory Albacore tuna in the Eastern Pacific and the consequences for cross-boundary fisheries management in collaboration with NOAA and Stanford University (photo above; NOAA). Read about some of our Lenfest Ocean Program-funded research here.
More on this theme: Dr. Natasha Hardy, Cole Brookson, Kyle Shanebeck
Collaborative Networks: Future Seas Project
Precipitous declines in coral reef and mangrove habitat worldwide threatens the food security, livelihoods and infrastructure of tropical coastal communities. Is it possible to restore the functionality of damaged habitats? What ecological and socioeconomic factors mediate the success of restoration efforts? Our research is tackling these questions through collaborative projects in coastal areas of the Caribbean where habitat restoration is occurring amidst a range of other conservation interventions. By applying a range of ecological concepts including resilience and metacommunity theory to field and lab studies of restoration, we are investigating how system properties (e.g., species equivalence, migration rates, habitat heterogeneity) affect ecological processes (e.g., magnitude and stability of diversity and biomass) across space and time, and ultimately understand the context in which restoration interventions are likely to lead to ecological recovery and socioeconomic benefits.
Read more on this theme: Aneri Garg, Noelle Helder, Courtney Stuart
Collaborative networks: Coral Restoration Consortium
Predicting the effects of invasion on recipient ecosystems is a top challenge for conservation. In aquatic ecosystems, restricted access to many habitats and high population connectivity mean that invaders spread at a pace and scale that precludes complete eradication. To address this ongoing problem, we are building tools that help managers forecast the consequences of invasion intensification and spread, and decide how to best use resources to prevent and reverse the impacts of invasion in aquatic ecosystems. Pertinent questions that our work asks are:
Our research into these questions currently focuses on three broadly distributed invasions of management concern: Indo-Pacific lionfish in the Western Atlantic (above), European green crab in the eastern Pacific (right; photo: Ted Grosholz), and Prussian carp in central Canada.
Read more on this theme: Dr. Alex Davis, Natasha Pentyliuk, Victoria Van Mierlo
Collaborative networks: Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force Regional Panels
How can we harness sufficient human and economic capital to tackle the biggest environmental challenges facing us today, and at relevant temporal and spatial scales? I am interested in understanding the role non-traditional methods and partnerships—such as market development, volunteer engagement, and media communication—play in addressing conservation problems. In particular, our research focuses on the ways a variety of societal sectors can influence the application of ecological research to conservation, in terms of identifying research needs, assisting with research execution, disseminating results, and facilitating uptake into practice.