Benthic Ecology



Hal Caswell
Lauren Mullineaux
Jesús Pineda

Shallow water benthic ecology

Studies in Hal Caswell's laboratory apply matrix population models to the analysis of benthic populations in field, laboratory, and theoretical settings. Current projects include studies of the effects of pollutants on clam and polychaete populations, of the short-term dynamics of seeded scallop populations, and of the effects of recruitment variability on benthic population dynamics.

In the laboratory of Jesús Pineda, field, lab, and modeling techniques are used to understand the abundance and distribution of shallow water benthic species, with emphasis on hydrodynamic forcing on settlement and recruitment. Other work focuses on understanding the factors influencing the latitudinal and depth ranges of benthic species, and in particular, how hydrographic variability influences regional distribution and abundance.

Spatial patchiness and temporal variation in shallow benthic populations are often strongly influenced by local circulation and boundary layer flows. An ongoing research project in Lauren Mullineaux's lab focuses on the influence of coastal flows, particularly those generated by headlands or other topography, on the settlement patterns and post-settlement redistribution of bivalve species. These studies are complemented by flume experiments on interactions between burrowing behavior and the effect of these interactions on the resuspension and transport of juvenile bivalves.

Deep-sea benthic ecology

Many of the prominent benthic species living at hydrothermal vents exhibit strong zonation patterns that correspond to gradients in water temperature and chemistry. Manipulative field experiments conducted by Lauren Mullineaux's lab have recently demonstrated that zonal boundaries are not set solely by physiological tolerances and requirements of the species, but rather a combination of biological interactions and physical influences. This progression in our concept of community structure in vent communities is similar to the rapid advances brought about by manipulative experimentation in the rocky intertidal. (See also vent studies described in Larval Ecology section)

Deep-water coral populations living on oceanic seamounts are isolated from each other by expanses of uninhabitable, sediment-covered abyssal seafloor. Members of Lauren Mullineaux's lab are using molecular techniques to investigate the population genetic structure of these corals and determine what processes affect gene flow among geographically isolated populations. A broader phylogenetic study of anthozoans is associated with these population-level investigations.