Research

I was trained as a marine ecologist and have done field work around the world, primarily in coral reef, rocky intertidal, and rocky reef ecosystems. Over the last decade my research has become much more interdisciplinary; I regularly collaborate with economists, anthropologists, decision scientists, and conservation scientists, as well as ecologists and marine scientists. Topically I focus my research on a range of issues and questions related to effective and efficient protection and sustainable use of marine resources. The project descriptions below highlight how these interests have translated into specific research programs and focal geographic regions.

PROJECTS

Food System Sustainability

I am co-lead for two synthesis working groups at NCEAS, one that is assessing the environmental footprint of global foods, and the other that is assessing the environmental and human health implications of different protein sources. My interest and research in this area grew out of projects associated with CART (see below).

 

Ocean Health Index

2013 Index_oldcolorsFor the past nine years I have served as lead scientist for the Ocean Health Index project, a large collaborative project involving many people and institutions. In this work we aim to capture the many different goals that people have for healthy marine systems, and provide indicators of those goals, as well as an overall Index across all goals. We launched our first global assessment and the accompanying website in August 2012. Currently we are focused on four key activities, detailed in our project website: 1) leading or co-leading efforts to apply the methods to regional case studies (currently British Colombia, Canada, Gulf of Maine, USA and northern Norway), 2) calculating annual global scores using updated methods and data (launched each year in December), 3) updating a software toolbox that allows others to explore and calculate their own index scores for their own regions, and 4) engaging with agencies and countries around the world to explore how the Index can be used to inform decision making in those regions.

Conservation Aquaculture

I am co-lead of the Conservation Aquaculture Research Team (CART) based at NCEAS, and was co-PI for a SNAPP working group on sustainable offshore aquaculture that addressed a range of topics aimed at understanding and guiding how to expand offshore aquaculture sustainably around the world. This project has expanded into research on how climate change is impacting (and will impact) marine aquaculture.

Ocean Tipping Points

urchins_garibaldi_McPeak_UCRegents_678x300I was part of a large collaborative project that recently wrapped up that sought to understand and characterize ecological thresholds, or “tipping points,” in coastal and ocean systems, in which small changes in human use or environmental conditions result in large, and sometimes abrupt, impacts to marine ecosystems. Our ultimate goal with the project was to help agencies and decision-makers anticipate and manage for these tipping points, and are working in two case study locations – Hawaii and Haida Gwaii, British Columbia – towards that end.

Cumulative Impact Mapping

cumulative_impacts_smallOver the last decade I have led several projects that mapped at global, regional and local scales the cumulative impact of human activities on marine systems. The work began with developing the methodology to do so and applying it globally. Since then I have co-led projects to apply the methods regionally in Hawaii, Massachusetts, the California Current, South Africa, the Mediterranean (data and project descriptions available on my Products page), and in the Great Lakes and occasional global updates. For several of these efforts I have worked closely with policy makers and managers to integrate findings into management decisions. I have also been involved in several projects that have adapted the methodology to particular taxa (billfish and plankton, marine mammals and seabirds) with the aim of informing strategic action to better protect those species, and to all mapped marine taxa to identify global hotspots. I continue to explore ways to expand and adapt the methods to new systems and new questions, and to refine the methods as we learn more about where key gaps remain.

Climate change impacts on biodiversity

Understanding species responses to climate change is a fundamental need for conservation planning. In collaboration with scientists from around the world, we conducted the first global synthesis of the response of marine species to climate change, which served as primary content for the marine species chapter of the 5th report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We have also explored global rates of change of climate variables in the oceans, and more recently the potential impact of these future changes on species and biodiversity. I recently collaborated with the Sustainable Fisheries Group to use these approaches and results to explore implications for fisheries management and sustainability under climate change.

Equity in conservation

Colleagues and I recently completed a project exploring if, and if so how, the equity in benefits or costs from management actions affects the probability of success for conservation outcomes. This work builds on ideas from a paper we published exploring the feasibility of ‘triple bottom line’ solutions to conservation. The project involved synthesis of existing research from around the world, further development of models used to test these questions, and an in depth empirical test of hypotheses in a case study location (still to be determined). I also led a project within the Bren School to explore issues of equity in resource management and teach a seminar on this topic, and my graduate student Casey O’Hara is further exploring this topic.