Plankton patchiness: predator-prey interactions in the plankton

Spatial variability of larval fish in relation to their prey and predators fields: interactions from cm to 10s of km in a subtropical, pelagic environment

Funding source: National Science Foundation

The spatial pattern of organisms within pelagic marine environments has long been recognized to be of significant ecological importance, and this is particularly true for larval fishes. The degree to which larvae can survive their time in the plankton depends on successful feeding and avoidance of predation, yet we know little of these interactions on the scales of relevance to the larval fish. Patchy prey and predator environments should lead to variation in predator-prey interactions, which underlie variation in larval fish growth and survival. Yet, dissecting the components of these overall outcomes is complex, due in large part to the broad range of spatial scales involved, and technological challenges with adequately sampling the various processes simultaneously. Our current NSF-sponsored study uses new technology (In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System – ISIIS, now re-named, DPI) to simultaneously measure the in situ, fine-scale distribution of larval fishes, in relation to their prey and their planktonic predators. A novel combination of detailed in situ sampling of the horizontal and vertical distributions of plankton, targeted fine-scale net sampling, and analyses of individual-level recent daily larval growth is enabling the identification of the biological and physical processes driving fine-scale plankton distributions. The overall goal is to quantify the patterns and consequences of the fine-scale to sub-mesoscale distributions of larval fishes, their prey, and their predators near and across a major western boundary current passing through the Straits of Florida. By sampling a series of water masses at very high resolution, the study will address specific hypotheses concerning: i) the drivers of aggregations and patchiness, and ii) the biological consequences of predator-prey interactions at fine scales.

To find out more about this project, please visit the "Observations of Subtropical Trophodynamics of Ichthyoplankton (OSTRICH)" cruise website. There you will find pictures, blogs by students and professors, and information about sampling technologies.

PIs on this project are Robert K. Cowen and Su Sponaugle. For information on Broader Impacts, please see Outreach and Engagement page. Data will be archived at BMO-DCO:

Vertical population connectivity: Pulley Ridge Project

REPP Connectivity Pulley Ridge: Population connectivity of the Pulley Ridge South Florida coral reef ecosystem: processes to decision support tools

Funding sources: NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research in partnership with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, National Marine FisheriesService’s Southeast Regional Office, and Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team

As shallow coral reefs are increasingly impacted by natural and man-made stressors, population replenishment from deep water populations may become increasingly critical. Our NOAA-sponsored collaborative study of the mesophotic reefs of Pulley Ridge is enabling us to examine population connectivity of reef fishes distributed across shallow, deep, and mesophotic reefs. Within our lab, Esther Goldstein is conducting her dissertation research on the (1) population distribution, (2) settlement and survivorship, and (3) adult behavior and reproductive output of a model reef fish, Stegastes partitus, across vertical spatial scales from shallow to deep and mesophotic reefs off the lower Florida Keys. The broader interdisciplinary project will build upon the research findings of numerous co-PIs to quantify the connectivity for a diversity of organisms inhabiting such mesophotoic reefs.

PI on the project is Robert K. Cowen, with 36 project Co-PIs.

Consortium for Oil Spill Exposure Pathways in Coastal River-Dominated Ecosystems

Funding source: Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GOMRI)

The CONsortium for oil spill exposure pathways in COastal River- Dominated Ecosystems (CONCORDE) aims to address how complex fine-scale structure and processes in coastal waters dominated by pulsed-river plumes control the exposure, impacts, and ecosystem recovery from offshore spills like the Deepwater Horizon release of 2010. CONCORDE will characterize complex circulation and its relevance for toxin exposure movement using a combination of remotely-sensed and field-collected oceanographic data around three major campaigns. We are involved in efforts to incorporate ship-based plankton imaging and mooring deployment cruises characterize the distribution patterns of planktonic organisms at scales of centimeters to meters using a state-of-the-art plankton imaging system. These data will be assimilated into an operational ocean 3-D circulation model that informs biological sampling, adaptive physical and chemical measurements, and the synthetic model. These data will be superimposed on the 3-D hydrodynamic model to forge an understanding of how plankton are forced by coastal physics in a way that makes them potentially vulnerable to ODS toxin exposure. The integration and synthesis of CONCORDE research will advance the understanding of how coastal marine ecosystems respond to, and recover from, large-magnitude oiling events. The combined use of field and modeling approaches will enable CONCORDE to answer questions relevant to other river-dominated ecosystems outside the Gulf of Mexico.

PI on this project is Monty Graham (The University of Southern Mississippi). For more detailed information on this project, see

Rockfish Early Life History And Survival

We are beginning research on northern Pacific rockfish through collaborations with local experts. Daniel Ottmann is conducting his M.S. thesis research based on an ongoing time series of rockfish recruitment to marine reserves and non-reserve comparison areas off the Oregon coast. Field sampling is a collaboration with Dr. Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, while the laboratory portion of the research is being conducted at HMSC in collaboration with Dr. Michael Banks’ laboratory. Daniel is supported by a laCaxia fellowship from Spain and has received a PADI grant and HMSC Markham grant to conduct the molecular analysis of his samples.

Beginning in Fall 2015, Will Fennie will be conducting new PhD research on rockfish early life history work in collaboration with Dr. Ric Brodeur’s laboratory at NOAA/HMSC.