Marine Biodiversity (MarineGEO)

  • MarineGEO
  • Dusk over the Carrie Bow Cay field station on the Belize Barrier Reef
  • Pacific Panama interidal
  • school of jacks, Pacific Panama
  • sergeant major fish over Pocollopora reef, Pacific Panama
  • Bittium snail grazing on eelgrass leaf
  • Erichsonella isopod on eelgrass leaf
  • Sabellid tube worm in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Principal Investigator

Our group is broadly interested in the diversity of marine life: where it comes from, what maintains it, and how diverse, interacting organisms create and sustain the natural products and services on which human lives and economies depend. Understanding these issues involves answering questions about evolution like: How and why do new species arise? And questions about basic ecology such as: What factors determine whether and which species end up living together?  How do the types of species present influence how ecosystems work, and the products and services they provide to us? Finally and most importantly, how can understanding these complex interactions inform our ability to live sustainably on a finite planet?

We address such questions by integrating a wide range of approaches: experimental ecology, phylogenetic comparative biology, and macroecological analysis of observational data, with good doses of species discovery and quantitative modeling mixed in. Most of our research focuses on how marine animals use resources and interact, and the consequences of those interactions for populations, communities, and ecosystems. Some long-running research themes include:

  1. studies of how biodiversity, food-web structure, and environmental change interact to affect ecosystem processes in seagrass beds;
  2. how taxonomic and functional diversity influence ecosystem structure and function more broadly in the living world; 
  3. systematic, ecological, and behavioral studies of the evolutionary radiation of symbiotic shrimp, including the only known marine eusocial animals, on Caribbean reefs.

A major focus in our group is synthetic marine biodiversity science. I direct the Smithsonian's Tennenbaum Marine Observatories, which leads the global MarineGEO program, the first long-term, global program to track nearshore biodiversity and its changing role in ecosystem in a rigorous, standardized way.  MarineGEO extends its reach by actively engaging in partnerships with other institutions and networks. These include the Zostera Experimental Network, a global collaboration working to understand biodiversity and functioning of seagrass ecosystems; the Reef Life Survey, a global coalition of scientists and citizen divers that have surveyed biodiversity at >2500 sites worldwide; among others.