Project Advisors

The OGCB REU has a deep roster of mentors with expertise in marine sciences that ranges from oceanography to marine ecology. All the faculty listed below have projects that are available to participants in Summer 2019.  Please also check out the projects page.

Marine Ecology & Physiology

Erika Eliason

ErikaThe Eliason lab is interested in the ecological and evolutionary physiology of aquatic organisms. We use a combination of field and lab-based studies to investigate how aquatic organisms cope with environmental stressors. Our research can help identify the optimal range of habitats and stressor threshold which can be used to inform conservation policy and manage natural resources.




Gretchen Hofmann

Research in the Hofmann lab addresses how marine organisms respond to changes in the ocean environment, such as ocean acidification and warming.  At the moment, we have a projects that examine the impact of multiple stressors on the physiology of marine invertebrates, a large project on epigenetic mechanisms in sea urchin larvae, and several projects that link natural pH variability to organismal performance. The lab is an ideal place to hone your lab skills in order to study ocean global change biology in the field.


Douglas McCauley

McCauley_headshotResearch in the McCauley lab focuses on better understanding how ecological communities work in a rapidly changing world. We endeavor to do research that can be directly applied to making conservation and ecosystem management smarter. Our science is diverse. Recent research in the McCauley lab includes work on study subjects such as sharks, manta rays, and giant sea bass and has covered questions relating to community ecology, ecosystem ecology, human-environment interactions. The shared philosophy of research in the McCauley Lab is that if we can better understand the dynamics of ocean ecosystems, we will be better stewards of their future and our future.

Gray Reefs


Holly Moeller

Research focus: The Moeller Lab uses mathematical models to unite observations of the natural world and experimental work in the lab in a predictive framework for ecological community structure and function. Most recently, oceanographic work in the lab has been centered around two themes: (1) Metabolic interactions among species, using marine ciliates as models for “kleptoplastidy.” Some unicellular organisms are capable of stealing chloroplasts from the algae that they eat, temporarily transforming themselves into primary producers. Our work focuses on understanding the ecological consequences of these acquisitions for the acquirers, their prey, and the rest of the planktonic food web. (2) Optimal fisheries management when fishing damages habitat. Many types of fishing gear both catch and remove fish biomass, and damage local habitats, reducing the viability of the fished stock. We use spatially explicit mathematical models to account for this habitat damage and calculate profit-maximizing strategies. To our surprise, these strategies often involve marine reserves, areas permanently closed to fishing, revealing conservation and economic win-win scenarios.


Alice Nguyen

Climate-change related ocean warming may produce favorable conditions for disease outbreaks, by amplifying pathogenicity if it favors the disease agent.  As changing ocean conditions are projected to continue, there is an increasing need to understand how outbreaks of marine infectious diseases will affect host populations and their connectivity across a broad geographic area. Utilizing molecular genetics and laboratory experiments, my research strives to gain a better understanding of how climate change will affect disease dynamics in marine systems.




Nick Nidzieko


Our goal is to advance knowledge of how physical processes affect marine ecosystems.We seek highly motivated, creative student interested in combining aspects of environmental fluid mechanics, marine ecology, biogeochemistry and/or emerging technology to advance our understanding of the ocean.






Dan Reed

My primary research interests pertain to the ecology on coastal marine ecosystems and the ecological and physical processes that structure them. Much of my work has focused on determining the mechanisms that allow these systems to recover from natural disturbance and the application of this knowledge to restoration programs designed to mitigate impacts caused by human disturbance. Giant kelp forests and seagrass beds have been the focal ecosystems for most of my research, which includes studies on dispersal, recruitment, reproduction, population dynamics, community ecology, primary production and trophic interactions.







Adrian Stier


Our lab examines the ecological processes that drive the biodiversity, assembly, and sustainability of harvested marine ecosystems.



Hillary Young


Research in our lab lies at the intersection of community ecology, ecosystem ecology and conservation biology. Specifically, we focus on understanding the effects of wildlife loss and human disturbance on community structure and ecosystem function. Recent work has focused particularly on effects of wildlife loss on human health and well-being.

We look at these questions in a variety of systems, including sites in East Africa, Pacific Islands, and coastal California. We work at both local and global scales, and use a range of observational, experimental, and meta-analytical approaches.



Deron Burkepile

The unifying theme of our lab’s research is to identify how alterations to trophic interactions and ecosystem productivity affect community structure and ecosystem function. Our research program employs an interdisciplinary program of field and lab experiments, behavioral observations, synthetic statistical analyses, and natural products chemistry to address trophic interactions from a variety of perspectives from large-scale patterns to small-scale mechanisms.





Kathy Foltz

Our lab investigates the molecular basis of gamete recognition, how sperm and egg interact, and how this interaction results in launching the developmental program. We’ve uncovered a rich tapestry of signaling pathways – some of which are similar to those used by mammalian immune recognition cells – that appear to coordinate egg activation. We use single-cell molecular and imaging techniques, high throughput proteomics platforms and network analyses, and cell biological approaches across several marine invertebrate model systems in order to address this complex, exciting biology.


Jenny Dugan

As a coastal marine ecologist with broad interests in community and population dynamics, I study basic questions concerning the influence of environmental and anthropogenic drivers on community and population dynamics of marine animals across a diversity of shorelines, latitudes and time scales. I work with colleagues from UCSB and around the world to investigate ecological connectivity, marine conservation and restoration, responses to and recovery from disturbance, species interactions, historical ecology, and the physical and biological drivers of community structure and function in coastal ecosystems. Much of my research has focused on sandy beach ecosystems, investigating numerous components of beaches, their ecology, food webs and ecological functions ranging from the bottom up effects and nutrient cycling implications of macroalgal wrack subsidies to exploring the role of shorebirds as ecosystem indicators and intertidal predators. I also collaborate with coastal managers on more applied studies designed to increase our understanding of and evaluate ecological impacts and implications of widespread human alterations of the coast, including urban development, shoreline armoring, beach grooming, oil spills, intertidal recovery dynamics, restoration strategies, and climate change. This applied component of my research is intended to help develop an ecological framework that may be used to inform coastal conservation and management of sandy beaches and other coastal ecosystems. Communicating results of scientific research and its potential application to environmental issues in a form that is accessible to students and the broader public is a key component of this effort.

Lizzy Wilbanks

Research in the Wilbanks lab examines how the ecology of microorganisms influences evolution and drives nutrient cycling in marine environments. We work to discover and quantify microbial interactions in natural marine ecosystems over scales bridging single cells to ecosystems. Understanding ecosystems with this resolution will help us improve predictive models of ecosystem function and discover how microbial communities shape our changing global climate. Working with our group, you’ll have a chance to develop skills – from the field, to the lab, to the command line – that will prepare you for a future in this area.



Jenn Caselle

Research in the Caselle lab is broadly focused on marine conservation and reef ecology.  We currently work in both coral reef, kelp forest and rocky intertidal ecosystems studying community dynamics, predator-prey dynamics, and recruitment and larval dispersal.  Our research is heavily field based, but we use a variety of statistical and lab techniques to answer fundamental questions in ecology.  My lab also runs a large-scale field-based monitoring program of kelp forests in the California current ecosystem with goals of assessing long-term changes due to climate and anthropogenic impacts. Our lab is committed to outreach and education, to managers,  policy-makers and stakeholders.

Robert Miller

Marine ecosystems of southern California are very productive and diverse, and we still have much to learn about how species interact and what drives changes in their abundance. We use techniques including photosynthetic measurements in the lab and field, ecological experiments, stable isotope analysis, and diet and feeding information to test hypotheses about how organisms across marine food webs interact. We are also interested in how marine organisms respond to pollutants and we use laboratory experiments to examine this.




Mark Brzezinski

Dr. Brzezinski’s research focuses on a dominant group of marine phytoplankton, the diatoms. Diatoms are unique among the phytoplankton in that they require silicon to grow which they deposit in their ornately patterned cell walls. That requirement for Si is obligatory and without a source of dissolved silicon diatoms cease to grow. A major focus of Brzezinski’s research is to assess the role of silicon as a limiting resource for diatom growth in the sea. His studies of silicon limitation of diatoms in Gulf Stream warm-core rings, in the Sargasso Sea and in the coastal waters off Southern California and in the Southern Ocean have established silicic acid availability as a strong determinant of the level of diatom activity in these systems.





Craig Carlson

Carslon Headshot 2013

Microbial Oceanography- Carlson Lab.

Microbes play an essential role in governing the large geochemical cycles on our planet like the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles. Marine microbes comprise greater than 95% of all the living biomass in the sea. As Microbial Oceanographers my groups’ research interests are shaped by an interdisciplinary blend of marine microbial ecology, microbiology and ocean biogeochemistry. Specifically our research has focused on the role that marine microbes play in the cycling of elements through oceanic dissolved organic matter (DOM) and the biogeochemical significance of DOM in the marine carbon cycle. We employ a variety of oceanographic, microbiological and molecular approaches to quantify and characterize both DOM composition as well as the microbial lineages that grow on these substrates. The ultimate goal of our research is to gain a better understanding of the role of DOM in ocean biogeochemistry and how microbial community structure responds to and controls DOM quantity and quality in the World’s oceans.IMG_0371



Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez

We are interested in how environmental change controls the composition and function of planktonic populations. Specifically, we use biogeochemical, optical and molecular approaches to improve our understanding of how climate-driven processes such as ocean acidification and warming impact





Alyson Santoro

The Santoro Lab studies the diversity and activity of the most abundant living things in the ocean—microbes! Potential projects include field or laboratory-based projects to culture novel microbes or use molecular analyses to investigate the diversity of uncultured microbes.




Libe Washburn

The Washburn Lab is focused on understanding how ocean circulation processes affect marine communities in ocean environments. The lab currently has a number of research projects going on including studies to understand: 1) transient circulation processes along the California coast that develop in response to the changing winds; (2) how oceanographic processes control ocean acidification in coastal waters near shore; (3) coastal ocean dynamics using surface current patterns that are mapped using radio waves; (4) how coastal current patterns control dispersal and settlement of marine organisms into near shore habitats as part of the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO); and (5) physical-biological coupling as part of the Santa Barbara Coastal and Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research (SBC-LTER and MCR-LTER) projects. Members of the Washburn Lab are currently prototyping with UAVs to help better collect data.

Recent Posts

Incorporating the Functional Response of Rock Crabs into Ecosystem Management in California

— Written by Gabbie Baillargeon

After several weeks of spending quality Friday nights with my crabs recording behavioral observations during feeding trials, I finally had enough data to begin to piece together the larger puzzle.  The goal of this study was to measure rock crab’s functional response, or the per capita foraging rate of a predator across varying mussel densities, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the predator-prey relationship between rock crabs and California mussels in the nearshore California ecosystem.  The premise of this research is grounded in the knowledge that rock crab density varies naturally and aggression is common between individuals, and thus harvesting this species could have consequences for species interactions and community structure.  The results of this study show that the functional response of rock crabs at all three predator densities all fit a Hollings Type II functional response curve when plotted.  This means that predation rate increases with prey density until the organism becomes full, then the predation rate plateaus.


Predator density of 2 crabs, feeding on 10 mussels

Comparing the predation rate of rock crabs on mussels, the results show conclusively that the predation rate was lower at all prey densities for the three-predator density in comparison to the two-predator density treatment.  This indicates that predator interference, most likely in the form of rock crabs fighting with each other as more crabs are present, decreases the number of mussels consumed per predator. However, it should be noted that the number of mussels consumed per tank did increase in proportion to predator density.  This means that per capita mussel mortality, or the chance of a mussel being consumed, does increase with the addition of more predators.  Breaking mussel consumption down on a per predator basis results in lower number of mussels being consumed per predator at higher predator density treatments due to dividing the number of mussels consumed by larger numbers of predators.

Behavioral studies show that number of aggression events, quantified by fights or aggressive posturing, were highest at the three-predator treatment.  However, there was no significant difference between average number of aggression events between the two and three predator treatments.  The size selection of mussels across all treatments was also measured in this study.  It was found that the average mussel consumed was 67 mm and that there was no significant difference between the average mussel size selected across predator treatment groups.

The main conclusion about the functional response of rock crabs is that they fit a Type II functional response and the shape of the curve is controlled by predator density, making it a predator dependent response. The first implication of this research is that rock crabs are clearly able to exert pressure on mussel populations, influencing their population dynamics.  Another important implication of this research is its application to fisheries management.  Pacific Rock Crabs and California Mussels are both harvested species and have strong trophic linkages to other organisms in the food web.  As fishing activity alters rock crab abundance, the biological interactions between rock crabs changes and in turn the degree of mussel consumption and availability of mussels for other species and harvesting fluctuates correspondingly.  Ecosystem-based management and co-management of species calls for better data that aims to understand key drivers of predator-prey relationships, such as the functional response.  The functional response is an important component of predator-prey relationships, and in the case of the rock crab, it presents strong evidence that rock crab stock assessments should be conducted in order to better assess the health of the population.  My research on these feisty crabs clarified one small piece of the puzzle in terms of learning how to incorporate knowledge of the nature of predator-prey relationships through studying the functional response in order to successfully implement ecosystem based management plans for fisheries.

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