Fiorenza Micheli's group is involved in a diverse set of research projects being conducted at a diverse set of study locations. These projects are united by the common goal of investigating how coastal marine assemblages are shaped through the interplay of physical factors and biological interactions, and examining how much of the observed variation in these assemblages can be attributed to human impacts on the marine environment.
Post-doc Francesco Ferretti, Dr. Fiorenza Micheli, and collaborators www.sharkbaselines.org are leading a project on shark baselines. Through the comparison of oceanic sectors in different stages of depletion, and by reconstructing the history of their exploitation, the shark baseline project aims to investigate the structure and population abundance of large sharks in natural ecosystems and to infer global change in their abundance as an effect of human perturbation. With a focus on coastal and pelagic ecosystems, the team is integrating a large volume of data from many oceanic sectors to answer crucial questions such as: (1) How many sharks can have a natural ecosystem of certain environmental settings and spatial scale? (2) Given a certain habitat (coastal or pelagic), what are the dominant species of sharks under natural conditions? (3) To what extent have sharks declined globally due to fishing?
Here locally in the Monterey Bay Area, the group has initiated field studies examining if and how visitation to the coast alters the composition of ecological assemblages. Graduate student Ishbel Kerkez is particularly interested in the potential application of de facto reserves as a tool for marine conservation. De facto reserves are areas of the marine environment where access is restricted for reasons other than conservation such as military bases, power plants and private homes that restrict access to the coast. Disturbances associated with visitation do not occur in de facto reserves, as opposed to marine reserves where visitation can increase because of protection. Evaluating the conservation value of these areas and whether they offer additional protection benefits compared to marine reserves has implications for coastal management.
Research on species interactions in the Micheli lab also extends to host–parasite interactions. Graduate student Chelsea Wood is investigating how fishing-driven biodiversity loss affects the abundance, diversity, and taxonomic composition of marine fish parasite assemblages using large-scale spatial gradients in fishing pressure. Her projects include a comparison of fish parasite assemblages between marine protected areas and open-access areas in central Chile, among three fished and three unfished islands of the Northern Line Islands archipelago, and across a gradient of fishing pressure spanning Kiritimati Island in the central equatorial Pacific. Chelsea aims to understand how human impacts can affect parasite transmission, and hopes to extend her research to incorporate other impacts and ecosystems in the future.
To accurately assess the efficacy of marine protected areas, scientists will need a better understanding of how biophysical processes operate at small scales in marine protected areas. Such research efforts contribute to Stanford's Marine Life Observatory (MLO) and Center for Ocean Solutions initiatives, emphasizing the application of science to inform decision-making and policy action. Dr. Micheli, postdoc Steven Litvin, along with Drs. Stephen Monismith (Stanford Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), Mark Denny, and collaborators, are establishing a kelp forest observatory in the marine protected area adjacent to Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station. This project monitors small-scale physical, chemical and biological processes that affect near-shore kelp forests within the marine protected area. In addition, Drs. Fiorenza Micheli and Steve Litvin, along with physiologists from Hopkins, Dr. George Somero and Jody Beers, are using laboratory experiments to understand how low dissolved oxygen waters affect fish communities in near shore kelp forests.
Postdoctoral researcher Jennifer O'Leary, in collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Game, is investigating how ocean acidification will change benthic habitat and invertebrate recruitment in northern and central California to help inform fisheries management. She is simultaneously working to develop genetic assays of larval settlement (recruitment) as a potential long-term monitoring tool and is planning to use these assays to identify large and small scale oceanographic factors that influence recruitment.
Dr. Fiorenza Micheli and Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad have partnered to investigate the impacts of oceanographic variability on coastal marine ecosystems and human communities of the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico, and the influences of local and global feedbacks on the resilience and adaptive capacity of these systems. Charles Boch is a researcher on this project, working from both Baja California and Hopkins Marine Station. This project will (1) characterize coastal oceanographic variability and the patterns and drivers of hypoxic events; (2) assess the impacts of coastal oceanographic variability, particularly hypoxic events, on nearshore species, ecosystems, and fisheries, and compare these impacts with past influence of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events; (3) assess the cultural, social, and economic variables that influence the responses of local communities to these impacts, particularly their willingness and ability to invest in local conservation and adaptation; and (4) assess the willingness of selected groups of US citizens to support these local conservation efforts and determine what factors influence such contributions.
As a physical oceanographer, Paul Leary is interested in coastal scale internal flows set up by stratified environments. As a community ecologist, he is interested community level responses to stressors advected by stratified flows. As a design engineer, he works to develop creative sensing and monitoring technology to better understand these physical and biological processes. Currently he is studying hypoxia in the Monterey Bay as transported by internal waves/tidal bores, and the community level response in kelp forest fishes in the short and long term.