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.

Marine food webs under global change


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 about projects in this theme: Dr. Natasha Hardy,  Dr. Miram Gleiber, Cole Brookson, Kyle Shanebeck

Collaborative partners and networks: Future Seas Consortium

Dynamics and recovery in restored coastal ecosystems


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 coral reef restoration is occurring amidst a range of other conservation interventions. By applying a range of ecological concepts including resilience, functional connectivity, and metacommunity theory to field and modeling studies of restoration we are investigating how system properties affect ecological processes 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 about projects in this theme: Aneri Garg, Noelle Helder, Courtney Stuart 

Collaborative partners and networks: Coral Restoration Consortium; Coral Restoration Foundation

Patterns, process, and consequences of biological invasions


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:

  •  To what extent are strong, non-linear invasion impacts predictable?
  • To what extent must invasive populations be suppressed to protect native species from substantial declines?
  • How can managers effectively allocate resources for intervention to maximize ecological protection and minimize socio-economic costs?
  • How do environmental and biotic characteristics influence invasion intensity?
Lionfish observations

Our research into these questions currently focuses on three broadly distributed invasions of management concern:  Indo-Pacific lionfish in the Western Atlantic (left), European green crab in the eastern Pacific (above; photo: Ted Grosholz), and Prussian carp in central Canada.

Read more about projects in this theme: Dr. Alex Davis, Natasha Pentyliuk, Victoria Van Mierlo

Collaborative partners and networks: Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force Regional Panels; Blue Ventures Conservation; Reef Environmental Education Foundation

Uniting ecological and social science for conservation


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.

Sample papers: Andrews et al. 2021 Energy Research & Social Science , Green et al. 2015 Conservation LettersPhillis et al. 2012 Conservation Letters

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