With my research partners in the Benthic Lab, I explore disturbances and other processes that influence the organization of benthic invertebrate communities, particularly in sedimentary habitats or soft bottom ecosystems from Antarctica to the Arctic Ocean. We’ve explored community responses to storm waves, hypoxia, freshwater and sediment deposition from rivers, tidal erosion, landsides, ice grounding, anchor-ice uplift, and the feeding activities of animals that excavate sediment including gray whales, walruses, and sea otters. We’ve also explored benthic responses to human-induced disturbances caused by domestic and industrial wastes, excavation and disposal of dredged material from harbors, and enhanced erosion of watershed soils and deposition in coastal ecosystems. Along the way, we discovered one of the most diverse soft bottom communities in the world at the shelf edge in Monterey Bay, and dramatic degradation of inner shelf communities from regional warming since the 1980s. Both patterns are linked to food, which increases at the shelf break and decreases with warming water. Since we were often the first to sample many bottom communities, we established the first quantitative communities descriptions (baselines) so future ecologists can explore longer-term community fluctuations, particularly from decadal and centennial ocean climate cycles. Since 1990, we’ve helped to restore native communities in coastal wetlands (fresh to salt), sand dunes, grasslands, and forests; and control sediment erosion from landslides, gullies and roads. More recently, we are helping to develop the Salinas Valley Whole Water Project with engineers from Stanford University who focus on “indoor” resource recovery systems, while we focus on the “outdoors:” recovering natural water infrastructure and developing biofilters and living architecture. Our outdoor work is spearheaded by the Central Coast Wetlands Group at MLML. And finally, we are working with a group of architects, artists, engineers and entrepreneurs using new materials for erosion control and the development of marine habitats.
Soft bottom ecosystems