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Kelton McMahon

Kelton McMahon

Guest Investigator


Office Phone: +1 508 289 3966


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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

266 Woods Hole Rd.

MS# 50

Woods Hole, MA 02543-1050


2011-present: Post-doctoral Investigator (Biology): Department of Biology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA and Red Sea Research Center, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Supervisor: Dr. Simon R. Thorrold and Dr. Michael Berumen

2005-2011: Ph.D. Candidate (Biological Oceanography) Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography: Applied Ocean Science and Engineering. Advisor: Dr. Simon R. Thorrold. Dissertation Title: “Functional connectivity of coral reef fishes in a tropical seascape assessed by compound-specific stable isotope analyses.”

2001-2005: B.Sc. (Biology) Bates College, Summa Cum Laude. Advisors: Dr. William Ambrose Jr. (Biology) and Dr. Beverly Johnson (Geology). Honors Thesis Title: “The impact of a changing food supply on Arctic benthos: Digestibility of ice algae and phytoplankton” (McMahon et al. 2006 MEPS 310:1-14)

Research Interests

In general, I am interested in ecological geochemistry, the use of stable isotope and trace element chemistry to examine questions of movement and trophic ecology. Currently I am developing methods to use compound specific isotope ratio mass spectrometry (particularly amino acids ) on otoliths, scales, and vertebrae to examine trophic interactions and migration pathways of coral reef fish and large pelagic sharks.  This method will provide an analytical tool to retrospectively examine diet and migration across multiple life history stages.

My research will examine the ontogentic migration of coral reef fish from juvenile nursery habitats such as mangroves and seagrass beds to the adult population on coral reefs.  The ability to retrospectively track movement is critically important for the design of effective networked marine protected areas and for successful long-term management and conservation of highly migratory or elusive species. I am also interested in food web dynamics and have been involved in the reconstruction of food webs using stable isotope analyses for Alaskan Lagoons, New England Salt marshes, and Arctic Fjords. Currently, I am using compound specific stable isotope analysis to examine the role of water column-based phytoplankton production and microbially recycled production in supporting upper trophic level fisheries on coral reefs.

In the past, I have used stable isotopes to examine the digestibility of ice algae and phytoplankton by Arctic benthos and the impacts of ice algae on growth and reproduction of benthic macrofauna. I have also previously studied biological-physical interactions controlling salt marsh ecosystem dynamics in New England. This research primarily focused on how the introduction of the invasive reed grass Phragmites australis has impacted native flora and fauna.