Fish and Invertebrate Ecology

  • Pink tagged blue crabs

    Tagged blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus).

  • Tracking Cownose Ray migrations in Chesapeake Bay.

    Tracking Cownose Ray migrations in Chesapeake Bay.

  • Monitoring River Herring spawning runs in tributaries of Chesapeake Bay.

    Monitoring River Herring spawning runs in tributaries of Chesapeake Bay.

  • Long-term seine survey of fish communities in the Rhode River

    Long-term seine survey of fish communities in the Rhode River.

  • Striped Burrfish collected for Chesapeake Bay Barcode Initiative

    Striped Burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi) collected for Chesapeake Bay Barcode Initiative

  • Oyster aquaculture in Maryland

    Oyster aquaculture

  • Atlantic brief squid

    Brief Squid (Lolliguncula brevis) collected during long-term trawling study

  • Chesapeake Bay trawl site

    Long-term trawl site near the main channel of Chesapeake Bay. 

  • Rhode River at SERC

    Heading out.

Principal Investigator

Fish and invertebrates of incredible diversity inhabit coastal and marine ecosystems, where they are key players driving ecosystem structure and function. Fisheries and aquaculture provide critical food sources for human societies, but these activities have also been among the greatest human impacts on aquatic ecosystems. In the Anthropocene, finding a balance between harvest and conservation of fish and invertebrates will be key to sustaining productive, resilient and biodiverse coastal and marine ecosystems. We address broad problems of population and community ecology using long-term quantitative sampling, animal tracking and innovative experiments at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Our studies analyze human impacts and natural change in freshwater, estuarine and marine systems.

Tagging a female blue crab to track the spawning migration.
Tracking the spawning migration of female blue crabs.

The blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is one of the Chesapeake Bay's most iconic species and supports one of the largest U.S. fisheries along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The species is closely tied to the culture and economy of the Chesapeake Bay and is the Bay’s most valuable fishery. The blue crab fishery is complex, with both commercial and recreational sectors, multiple management jurisdictions, regional and season variation in fishing gear and effort, and a variety of markets. The complex blue crab life cycle, with the youngest crabs living in the ocean before migrating into bays and estuaries where juveniles and adults live, adds to the challenge of managing fisheries sustainably. To learn more about our blue crab research, please visit our Blue Crabs and the Fishery webpage.

Cartoon of a derelict crab trap.
Derelict crab trap.

Understanding the ecology of fisheries is critical to maintaining resilient, productive and biodiverse coastal and marine ecosystems. Fishing is an important sector of coastal economies, provides an important supply of food for human societies, and is an activity of great cultural and historical importance. But fisheries have also contributed to the decline of coastal and marine ecosystems through changes in biomass and community structure, disruption of food webs, and alteration of habitats. Using the Chesapeake Bay as a model system, we are addressing fisheries issues including the impacts of harvest, restoration, and conservation on oyster reef communities, solutions for reducing the impact of derelict fishing gear, and mechanisms of decline in soft clam fisheries. To learn more about our fisheries and aquaculture research, please visit the following webpages:

Cartoon of the Rhode River study site.
Cartoon of the Rhode River long term study system.

Our long-term studies of fish and invertebrate communities in the Rhode River, Maryland study site offer a window in the community structure and population dynamics of fish and invertebrate communities in one of the most productive ecosystems on earth, the Chesapeake Bay. Spanning more than three decades, this research tracks seasonal, annual, and decadal variation in species composition and abundance of fishes and macro-invertebrates. Sampling methods include trawling, seining, a fish weir, benthic infauna cores, and tethering experiments. The long-term descriptive data, in combination with our experimental studies, provide an unusual database for exploring populations, communities, predator-prey relationships, impacts of fisheries, and impacts of environmental variability and climate change, and other ecological processes. The data also support the Tennenbaum Marine Observatory Network and MarineGEO. To learn more about our long-term research, please visit our Long-Term Studies of a Chesapeake Tributary webpage.

Swimming Cownose Rays
Cownose Rays spend summers in Chesapeake Bay and migrate south for the winter.

Many species on the planet migrate during their lifetime, using different habitats during specific life stages. What habitats are most important and why? How will climate change affect migrations? What are the benefits and costs of migration to individuals? How can we best manage fisheries for migratory species? How do migratory species affect community structure and ecological processes? To learn more about our Movement of Life Initiative research, please visit our Movement of Life Initiative webpage.  

River Herring in Chesapeake Bay
An Alewife collected in a Chesapeake Bay spawning stream.

When Europeans arrived in North America, river herring were among the most abundant fish in the Chesapeake Bay.  In the past few decades, populations have declined over 90% due to habitat loss, overfishing and other causes. Most fisheries, including all of those in the Chesapeake Bay, are now under moratoria. The two species of river herring, Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and Blueback Herring (Alosa aestivalis), are anadromous fish - meaning they live most of their lives in the ocean but return to reproduce in the same streams where they were born. This project has a long-term goal of documenting and monitoring river herring spawning runs throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. To learn more about our river herring conservation research, please visit the following webpages:

Blue Catfish in Chesapeake Bay
Tagging a Blue Catfish in the Potomac River.

Non-native species are altering ecosystems on a global scale. They are sometimes labeled as invasive species when they have substantial impacts on native species. Our lab seeks to improve understanding of the ways in which non-native fish like blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) and common carp (Cyprinus carpio) affect estuarine food webs and ecosystems. These species are particularly common in the freshwater tidal areas of estuaries and can become so abundant that they support commercial-scale fisheries. To learn more about our non-native research, please visit our Ecology of Non-Native Fishes webpage.  

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