Shifting Ecosystems




Marine ecosystems are experiencing unprecedented rates of change in water chemistry, habitat structure, and food web dynamics due to our shifting world climate. Explore HMSC labs detecting, predicting, and guiding management responses to shifting marine ecosystems.


The Benthic Ecology lab seeks to elucidate how global climate change and human activities affect marine species at the molecular, organism, and population-level as well as affect community structure and ecosystem functioning. They investigate the ecological effects of wave energy development on benthic communities. Within this context, the lab explore two main issues: (1) how reduction in wave energy will affect communities and species inshore of wave capture devices, and (2) how the introduction of novel ‘habitat’ provided by wave capture devices and associated structures affects communities and species within an array of wave energy capture devices. The lab is also engaged in other research about human impacts on benthic systems.

Currently, they are investigating potential bioaccumulation of metals and organic compounds from the Georgia Pacific paper mill outfall in benthic organisms. The lab is also are investigating the success (in terms of providing ecosystem services such as habitat and sediment accumulation) of a replanted native eelgrass bed as compared to longer-standing reference beds.

PI contact: Sarah Henkel


Dr. Scott Baker's Cetacean Conservation and Genomics Laboratory (CCGL) conducts research on whales, dolphins, and porpoises with an eye toward conservation of several species of marine mammals. Scott works on collaborative projects throughout the world using genomics and historical data to determine what great whale populations might have looked like before human exploitation, and how they have changed over time. These projects also provide information about the current population status of several species of great whales. The CCGL also conducts surveys and uses genetic information to study trade-in "whale-meat" markets in Japan and the Republic of (South) Korea, identifying the species of origin for these products to be more closely tracked.

PI contact: Scott Baker



The Western Ecology Division (WED) conducts innovative research on watershed ecological epidemiology and develops tools to assist stakeholders to achieve sustainable and resilient watersheds. Research focuses on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal systems and how they are connected.  Scientists develop tools to monitor and predict the condition of these systems and their contributions to human well-being nationwide, with a special focus on the Pacific Northwest.  

WED leads innovative research and predictive modeling efforts that link environmental conditions to the health and well-being of people and society. WED advances research and tools for achieving sustainable and resilient watershed and water resources. WED advances systems-based research to predict the adverse effects of chemicals and other stressors across species and biological levels of organization through the development and quantification of adverse outcomes pathways across multiple scales.


Our lab uses a variety of quantitative and empirical tools to investigate the dynamics of marine populations and communities across a range of spatial and temporal scales.

The overall goal of the lab is to investigate factors affecting the population dynamics of marine fisheries across spatial scales. Consequently we work on topics ranging from small scales, focused on individual behavioral decisions (e.g., how do predators choose patches of prey?), to large scales, dealing with the influence of larval dispersal, oceanographic conditions, and fishery management strategies on source-sink dynamics, fishery productivity, and the design of marine protected areas.  In all of these efforts, we utilize quantitative approaches that allow us to “scale up” small-scale processes to examine their population-level consequences and vice versa.

Current research topics in our lab include the effects of size-selective mortality on the population dynamics of sex-changing fish, the role of nonconsumptive (fear) effects of predators on oyster populations, and methods to detect short-term changes in the size structure of fish populations due to changes in fishery management.

PI contact: Will White


The GEMM Lab focuses on the ecology, behavior, health, and conservation of marine megafauna, including cetaceans, pinnipeds, seabirds, and sharks. We aim to fill knowledge gaps about species ecology, health, and distribution patterns so that conservation efforts can be more directed and effective at reducing space-use conflicts with human activities.

We work closely with partners and stakeholders to fully understand issues and needs, and prioritize communication of our work and findings through a variety of formal and informal outlets.


The Heppel Lab is a diverse group of ecologists working on both basic and applied research in the fields of marine ecology, conservation biology, population ecology, and fisheries science. Their students work from the Oregon Coast to the Colombian Pacific to the Gulf of Alaska, specializing in habitat assessment, species interactions, population distribution, and the response of populations to human perturbations. Lab members play active roles in finding solutions to local, regional, and international conservation and management problems.


The Marine & Anadromous Fisheries Ecology lab studies how animals move throughout rivers and oceans (their transport, dispersal, and migration) and how that movement affects their growth and survival. Headed by Jessica Miller, researchers in the lab focus primarily on economically and ecologically important species, mostly those found along the west coast of the United States. Their research often relies on the examination of animal hard parts, including scales, otoliths, vertebrae, and shells. Referred to as "biogeochemical markers," these structures are rich stores of data about individuals that allow researchers to determine how environmental variation and climate change can affect the life histories of fish and invertebrates, with an eye towards how that information can inform management.  All of this research comes together to inform sound conservation and management strategies of our marine resources.

Jessica’s lab also had the opportunity to study hundreds of coastal species that arrived on Agate Beach in Newport, Oregon after the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. Many organisms that crossed the Pacific Ocean on the tsunami debris arrived on beaches along the west coast of North America and the Hawaiian Archipelago alive, which provided Jessica and her colleagues with the unique opportunity to look at how marine debris could disperse organisms around the globe in the future and evaluate some of the potential ecological impacts of such events.


Research in Michael Banks' Marine Fisheries Genomics Lab centers on the application of population genetic and genomic principles towards a better understanding of processes important to the management, utilization, and conservation of marine fisheries. Michael’s lab focuses on genetic characterization of natural populations, fishery subjects, and aquacultural species. The research determines specifics about hybridized, admixed, or recently diverged populations, population membership of mixed fishery samples, and individual unknown samples from various contexts (such as water diversions). The Banks lab also applies genomic tools to learn how fish (or other creatures important to the fishery food chain) orient in space and time, as well as relative to olfactory stimuli, and how these findings relate to their interaction for mating, migration, response to environmental variability, etc.


The Molluscan Broodstock Program (MBP) works in partnership with the West Coast oyster industry to improve the performance of Pacific oysters through genetic selection.

The objectives of MBP are: 1) to improve Pacific oyster broodstock through selection in order to enhance commercial yields and other desirable traits, 2) to establish a broodstock management program with industry for sustainable, long- term improvements in commercial production, 3) to maintain a repository for genetically selected oyster families and cryopreserved gametes.

Oyster families are planted in partnership with the West Coast oyster industry at sites in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Families with the highest yields (meat weights) are identified and crossed to produce subsequent generations for selection. Selected broodstock and advice on broodstock management are provided to industry to enhance commercial production. Seed produced by the Molluscan Broodstock Program is cultured under conditions that exclude potential infections from harmful microorganisms and parasites. A repository preserves valuable genetic material for future applications.


The Fisheries Behavioral Ecology Program conducts laboratory research on the behavioral responses of commercially important marine fishes to environmental factors that are critical to controlling distribution and survival from egg to adult. Research also focuses on defining the factors which affect postcapture survival and mortality of fish that are caught as bycatch. The experimental laboratories consist of more than 17,000 cubic feet of tank space housed in over 18,000 square feet of wet laboratory space supplied with 500 gallons per minute of high quality seawater, 200 gallons per minute of which can be chilled to 3° C. Species of current interest include walleye pollock, sablefish, and Pacific halibut.


The scientists of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center conduct leading-edge research and analyses that provide the foundation for management decisions to protect, recover, restore, and sustain ecosystems and living marine resources in the Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific Northwest is home to over 90 species of commercially-managed groundfish along the West Coast and over 30 threatened or endangered fish and marine mammal species--including iconic Pacific salmon and killer whales. Protecting our region's living marine resources and their habitats is critical to sustaining the environment, our economy, public health, and quality of life.

The NWFSC's mission is to conduct the science necessary to conserve marine and anadromous species and their habitats off Washington, Oregon, and northern California coasts and in freshwater rivers of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Our research provides reliable, relevant, and credible information to help decision-makers and natural resource managers build sustainable fisheries, recover endangered and threatened species, maintain healthy ecosystems, and protect human health. The Center is also dedicated to enhancing public awareness, education, and stewardship of our marine resources.


The Marine Resources Program (MRP) is ODFW’s home for management of fish and wildlife species and habitats in the ocean, bays, and estuaries. Based in Newport with field offices in Astoria, Charleston, and Brookings, MRP staff are responsible for the monitoring, sampling, research, and management of commercial and sport marine fisheries and associated marine habitats. In addition to our fisheries-focused work, MRP is engaged in a wide variety of research, management, and policy actions about all aspects of ocean use and conservation.


The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network began in the 1980s, under the umbrella of the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network, as an informal alliance of marine mammal experts from Oregon universities interested in collecting information and specimens from stranded marine mammals. With the advent of the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program in 2002, funding for a dedicated full-time Stranding Coordinator became available, enabling work to progress from casual observations of marine mammal stranding events to a serious scientific endeavor involving the systematic collection, analysis, and archiving of stranding data and biological samples. Data collected from such events are entered into a national database that is used to establish baseline information on marine mammal communities and their health.


The Sponaugle-Cowen Plankton Ecology Laboratory conducts basic and applied research on the ecology of marine fishes and the dynamics of their early life history stages. They are especially interested in the processes underlying the growth, survival, and dispersal of early life stages, leading to successful settlement and recruitment to the benthic populations. Most of their work has focused on marine fishes in a variety of systems but especially those on tropical coral reefs. Some of their interdisciplinary efforts have focused on identifying the physical and biological processes creating a temporal and spatial pattern in offshore larval distributions and overall larval supply. Other efforts have been directed at identifying the linkages between the pelagic life of larvae and subsequent recruitment of juveniles to the reef. The lab's overarching goal is to better understand the events occurring in the pelagic larval stage that influence population replenishment and connectivity. The data they collect is not only relevant to ecology and oceanography, but also are useful for quantifying overall population replenishment, designing and evaluating marine reserves, and interpreting future environmental changes.


The Seabird Oceanography Lab (SOL) at Oregon State University is involved in research focusing on seabird ecology, movement ecology, oceanography, and integrated ecosystem studies while providing research and educational opportunities for students. 

Research applications range from colony- and vessel-based observational studies to deploying state of the art electronics to study individual foraging, dispersal, migration, and behavior patterns of seabirds. These biologging data are often integrated with in-situ and remotely-sensed measures of prey resources or their proxies or related to human activities (e.g., fishing) or threats. In addition to environmental "bottom-up" studies, we also study the "top-down" effects of predators on seabird population dynamics and life histories. 

Conservation aspects of the research include species restoration, population assessment, and monitoring, seabird-fishery interactions, identification of marine important bird areas, and marine spatial planning.


The State Fisheries Genetics Lab conducts fisheries genetics research that addresses the science and management needs of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.  We provide leadership in the production of genetic data, the development of science-based tools and information from those data, and the formulation of science-based recommendations based on the genetic information.  Our research spans both the freshwater and marine environments, focusing on species of ecological, evolutionary, or economic importance.


The Marine Mammal Institute's Whale Telemetry Group (WTG) has pioneered the development of satellite-monitored radio tags to study the movements, critical habitats, and dive characteristics of free-ranging whales and dolphins around the world. Since the first deployment of a satellite tag on a humpback whale off Newfoundland, Canada, in 1986, the WTG has tagged a total of 462 whales from 11 different species. This work has led to the discovery of previously unknown migration routes and seasonal distribution (wintering and summering areas), as well as descriptions of diving behavior.

The WTG primarily focuses on endangered whale species whose distribution, movements, and critical habitats (feeding, breeding, and migration areas) are unknown for much of the year. Decision-makers use this valuable information to manage human activities that may jeopardize the recovery of endangered whale populations.

The objectives of the WTG’s telemetry studies are to (1) identify whale migration routes; (2) identify specific feeding and breeding grounds, if unknown; (3) characterize local whale movements and dive habits in both feeding and breeding grounds, and during migration; (4) examine the relationships between whale movements/dive habits and prey distribution, time of day, geographic location, or physical and biological oceanographic conditions; (5) provide surfacing-rate information that can be useful in the development of more accurate abundance estimations, or assessing whales’ reactions to human disturbance; (6) characterize whale vocalizations; and (7) characterize sound pressure levels to which whales are exposed.