Biological oceanography is interdisciplinary...
I am interested in all things plankton, particularly related to oceanographic and ecological processes affecting zooplankton (the animals within the planktonic community, including larval fishes, shrimps, gelatinous organisms, and copepods, among others). Almost all marine animals spend at least a portion of their lives as plankton, so processes during these stages are critical to population regulation and sustainability. My overarching research question is: what are the physical and biological drivers of organism distributions in the ocean and the resulting consequences for population dynamics? This question is probably as old as the field of biological oceanography itself; however, new sampling technology (such as in situ imaging and acoustics) is providing an unprecedented, high-resolution ability to quantify zooplankton distributions, behaviors, and biophysical interactions across a range of spatial and temporal scales. These data can provide a mechanistic understanding of population dynamics and potentially lead to new avenues of inquiry for experiments, modeling, and analysis of historical time series.
To unlock the full potential of these new sampling technologies to provide insight into plankton ecology and marine ecosystem functioning, we need to apply concepts from the traditionally separate fields of oceanography, ecology/evolution, and computer science.
My research falls under 3 main themes, posed here as overarching questions:
1) How prevalent are fine-scale (1-10 m) features in the ocean (e.g., fronts, thin layers, internal waves) and what is their impact on biological processes and ecosystem productivity? We have described features such as thin layers, which are dense aggregations of plankton 1-5 m thick and at least 2 times the background concentration, in coastal oceans throughout the United States with vastly differing hydrographic regimes. This suggests these fine-scale features have ecological importance. A literature review that we recently published showed that the spatial overlap within thin layers and other fine-scale features could be an important factor influencing ecosystem productivity.
2) Given this background of ubiquitous patchiness within planktonic communities, what kinds of interactions are there among zooplankton, including predator-prey, but also competition, commensalism, or mutualism? In situ imaging has revealed the potential for complex morphological and behavioral adaptations of planktonic organisms, including Batesian mimicry by larval fishes resembling noxious or less palatable gelatinous animals. There are also many consistent associations among organisms that likely have some ecological or evolutionary basis. Further study is needed to describe and understand interactions within the plankton because it is extremely relevant for resolving marine food webs and analyzing historical time series data.
3) How do new sampling technologies compare with one another and with more widely used sampling techniques? This is a more technical aspect of my research that involves comparing gear types to elucidate their strengths and weaknesses. Each technique has certain size classes, based on either mesh size, pixel size, or acoustic impedance, that the system samples best. Understanding the shortcomings and strengths of each system can maximize its scientific utility. I am also interested in image processing and analysis developments, particularly ones that are user-friendly and capable of incorporating expert opinion.
I am always looking for collaborations and insight from others, so please do not hesitate to contact me.