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 2018.  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.




Jonathan Pruitt

jonathan-pruittThe Pruitt Lab is interested in the evolutionary causes and ecological consequences of intraspecific variation in animal behavior. We explore the degree to which individual animals exhibit stable, characteristic differences in their behavioral tendencies (e.g., aggressiveness, sociability, neophobia). We then examine how individuals’ behavior influences their performance in contrasting ecological contexts like acquiring mates, evading predators, procuring food, and enduring environmental change. At the population and community level, we explore how the mixture of behavioral phenotypes within populations and communities influences population vitals (e.g., intrinsic growth rate, carrying capacity) and community dynamics (e.g., succession, diversity, stability). We use a variety of nearshore and beach-dwelling invertebrates in and around Santa Barbara for these investigations.
random purple urchin_mildly attractive



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 phytoplankton diversity and function.






Uta Passow

I work on the effects of human perturbations on marine organisms and the carbon cycle. Specifically, my lab investigates the effects of global climate change, oil spills and more recently plastic pollution for primary production and sedimentation of marine snow to the deep sea.

Global change implies that both temperature and the carbonate system of the surface ocean is shifting away from pre-industrial conditions. As a consequence, the light and nutrient climate to which organisms of the surface ocean are exposed, will also change. Marine organisms will have to deal with these multifaceted changes, which often are perceived as stressors. In my lab we investigate the impact of multiple simultaneous perturbations on growth and production of phytoplankton, the small algae responsible for primary production. We have found that the responses of phytoplankton to multiple stressors is not additive. This means that the change in growth or photosynthesis rate of an algae due to increased temperature and increased ocean acidification may not be predicted from their individual responses to increased temperature and ocean acidification. Therefore, we can’t predict the biological consequences of shifts in light climate, the carbonate chemistry and temperature based on single stressor experiments. This is a real conundrum, because society can’t prepare for expected changes, without reliable predictions of changes.

Since the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, we’ve also been investigating how a significant fraction of the oil arrived at the bottom of the ocean. By itself oil commonly floats, but when captured by sinking marine snow, it is transported to the seafloor where it impacts organisms living and feeding there, like deep sea corals or benthic fish. We use experimental methods simulating the formation of marine snow in situ and also collect sinking material from the field to investigate these processes. More recently we’ve also become interested in the ability of marine snow to transport micro-plastics to depth, similar to the oil. Micro-plastics are abundant in the ocean, but research on their distribution is in its infancy. We are analyzing sedimented material for the presence of micro-plastics.

We use newly developed culturing instrumentation, called multi-cultivators to grow phytoplankton under different combinations of stressors and monitor their growth response. We use different species for these experiment, as different algae show different responses. The experimental work on marine snow formation uses rolling tables and rolling tanks to simulate an infinity water column. Large sediment traps moored in the Gulf of Mexico collect sinking material, which can be analyzed for different components. We combine experimental and field work with some modeling efforts to help us understand complex processes.


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

Materials and Methods of Ara’s Fishy Project

— Written by Ara Yazaryan


Me and my prized catch, a nice sized male Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher)

My experiment, now finalized, is very exciting: I get to study what the Sheephead of Anacapa are eating! My project is a quantitative assessment of Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) stomach contents across several different sites and populations at Anacapa, part of the Channel Island chain. Anacapa has a unique conservation history, as the MPAs established here are of varying ages. One site is 40+ years old, and is one of the oldest Marine Protected Areas in the state of California. Another was established relatively recently, and the remaining areas of the island remain open for public use. Across these three study sites, I seek to determine the diets of Sheephead across different ages and areas.


A fully dissected and processed Sheephead, complete with gut contents in tray

First, Sheephead were collected from these three sites (with appropriate research licensing of course) via SCUBA spear-fisherman or – much to my angling delight – with hook-and-line. Next, the fish were dissected in lab. Various parts of the fish were saved for future study: the organs, otoliths, eyes, muscle tissue, gonads, and gills. But for my efforts, the stomach intestine was squeezed to release the slurry of partially digested fish food. These stomach contents were then weighed, placed into a Falcon Tube, and preserved in ethanol to prevent decomposition (and the horrendous smell that accompanies it). Upon preservation, I place these stomach contents into an examining tray to view under a dissecting microscope, under a snorkel vent to alleviate the less-than-stellar odour. Using a low-power scope to help me view the small pieces, I correspondingly separate the contents into categories. Based on my findings thus far, the majority of the sheephead gut contents consist of urchin spines and shell fragments, kelp encrusted in bryozoan colonies, small crabs, gastropods, and bivalves. However, a few unique finds have been unveiled: such as unidentified fish spines and scales (Sheephead


A sample of Sheephead stomach contents under a microscope: a hermit crab, urchin spines and tests, as well as mussel shell fragments can be seen.

are not normally known to be piscivorous), octopi, pieces of gravel and sand, and even a plastic nurdle (a small bead of resin plastic such as polyethylene used in the production of larger plastic objects). Such variable stomach contents, once separated, will correspondingly be assessed to determine the composition by percent volume. Data will then be pooled from many fish from all three sites at Anacapa to determine dietary trends.

Though identifying, separating, and sorting each shell fragment may seem tedious at times, I am nonetheless driven by curiosity and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Much like the Californian gold miners of old descending into deep, dark mines to unearth unknown treasures; I plunge my tweezers with nervous anticipation into the mushy lumps of partially digested Sheephead guts, facing constant perils and danger. Okay, maybe I am being a tad hyperbolic, but hopefully my point comes across. My stomach content examinations are part of a larger effort to understand fish populations, and the effects MPAs have on fish conservation. So I carry on with my unwavering efforts, to explore the vast unknown wilderness that is the world of fish guts!


In the midst of gory dissection, complete with gloves, photo courtesy of Dr. Jenn Caselle

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