Seminar Speakers


When is a fishery sustainable?

Defining “sustainable” seafood is now a major international business with dozens of ecolabels now competing to convince retailers and consumers that their label assures the fish are produced sustainably.  In this talk I will review the concept of sustainability and the closely related subject of sustainable development, which is generally considered to be the long-term provision of benefits to humans. The talk will move from a single species exploration, to marine ecosystems, and coupled natural human systems.  The role of ecolabels and the disturbing commercialization of ecolabeling will be discussed and I will highlight that current definitions of “sustainable seafood” have gone far beyond traditional definitions of sustainability and are largely now dependent on subjective judgements of acceptable environmental impact.


Ray Hilborn is a Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington specializing in natural resource management and conservation. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in conservation, quantitative population dynamics and risk analysis. He co-authored “Quantitative Fisheries Stock Assessment” with Carl Walters in 1992, and “The Ecological Detective: Confronting Models with Data” with Marc Mangel, in 1997 and has published over 200 peer reviewed articles.


Fish out of water: Will freshwater fishes keep pace with climate change?

In the coming decade, the survival of species will in part depend on their abilities to track geographic changes in suitable climates. My presentation explores whether freshwater fish species will be able to keep pace with projected climate warming in the 21st century through the lens of two case studies. First, we head to southwestern United States where I illustrate how more frequent and severe droughts associated with climate change are poised to significantly alter flow intermittence patterns and hydrologic connectivity in dryland streams, with deleterious effects on highly endangered fishes.. Second, I zoom out and investigate the ability of freshwater fishes of the United States to keep pace with projected climatic changes. By quantifying the velocity of climate change and species-specific dispersal abilities I show that freshwater fishes will be required to disperse considerable distances to maintain their current temperature conditions. Many species lack the dispersal rates to achieve the required distances, and large dams and diversions will only serve to worsen the situation. Non-native fish species show, on average, five times greater dispersal ability compared to native species suggesting that introduced species may be better poised to respond to climate change.


Julian Olden’s research focuses on the ecology and biogeography of freshwater ecosystems, in particular the conservation of native fish biodiversity in light of environmental change (predominantly dam fragmentation and river regulation) and invasions by non-indigenous species. This research is multi-faceted and draws upon a diverse array of disciplines including conservation biology, invasion biology, quantitative ecology, landscape ecology, biogeography, community ecology, hydrology and fisheries. Ongoing research is being conducted in Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin, and in river systems of Australia. Prof. Olden’s research aims to integrate science-based approaches with “on-the-ground” management strategies in order to address pressing conservation questions.


Reassembling Coastal Marine Ecosystems: Patterns, Processes, and Consequences

Novel species interactions are occurring at an increasing rate in aquatic ecosystems due to processes such as invasion, climate change, and population decline and recovery. How will the structure and function of food webs, and the socio-economic benefits they provide, respond to changing species composition? Can conservation and restoration efforts prevent and reverse these effects? I will present examples from my research in coastal marine systems that illustrate: 1) the causes and consequences of community reassembly across multiple scales of inquiry, from individual behavior to ecosystem function, and 2) opportunities to inform management intervention with general theory, so that targets for action that are ecologically-relevant. For example, integrating observational, quantitative modelling, and experimental studies of the invasion of predatory Indo-Pacific lionfish into coastal Atlantic systems reveals that patterns of predation on native species are well-predicted by principles of trait- and size-based interactions in aquatic food webs, and highlights ‘hot spots’ where vulnerable prey species are at greatest risk of extirpation and extinction. Moreover, levels of population suppression required to prevent and reverse invasion effects are governed by threshold dynamics, beyond which major changes to the structure of native communities occur. Predicted thresholds are now being used as targets for invasion control by agencies across the region. This research is helping to guide conservation and restoration action in the face of species change by advancing our understanding of interactions in aquatic systems and linking theoretical advances to the design of ecologically-based targets for success.


Dr. Stephanie Green is a marine ecologist who is passionate about finding creative ways to understand and conserve nature. She currently holds a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship at Oregon State University, and is an affiliate scientist with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation.


Does DNA Methylation Facilitate Genome Diversity and Phenotypic Plasticity in Marine Invertibrates?

There is an amazing amount of diversity incorporated into the genome of oysters and other marine invertebrates including vastly expanded gene families, high mutation rates, and numerous mobile elements. These are certainly a benefit to broadcast spawners living in fluctuating environments. Recent work examining DNA methylation is revealing new insight into similar diversity at the epigenetic level. The function of DNA methylation in species such as bivalves where the limited amount of DNA methylation is predominantly found in gene bodies is not completely understood. An emerging possible explanation is that the role of gene body DNA methylation is dependent on gene function, a potential phenomenon that has arisen from selective pressure on lineage-specific life history traits. Specifically, in genes contributing to phenotypes that benefit from increased plasticity, the absence of DNA methylation could contribute to stochastic transcriptional opportunities and increased transposable element activity. I will present data from our lab supporting these hypotheses, new data demonstrating evidence of inheritance of DNA methylation patterns, and together how this could change how we consider physiology, ecology, and evolution.


Prof. Roberts’ research addresses issues concerning aquaculture and natural resource conservation using a comparative genomic approach. By studying the expressed portion of an organism’s genome he hopes to gain a better understanding of responses to physiological and environmental change. These molecular-based approaches are revealing amazing adaptive traits in aquatic organisms and surprising conservation of signaling pathways across taxas.


Food Webs, Stability, and Functioning of Nearshore and Estuarine Ecosystems in the Northeast Pacific

A primary goal of ecology and resource management is to determine the relative effects of abiotic and biotic drivers on the functioning and stability of ecosystems. My research addresses the complex ways that these biotic and abiotic forces can interact to influence function and stability of dynamic nearshore and estuarine ecosystems, often exposed to intense anthropogenic pressure. Although most experimental and comparative studies to date have highlighted strong physical forcing in coastal systems, ecologists have been mostly limited to comparative studies for assessing the role of top predators. Here, I experimentally show that the recovery of top predators, sea otters, through the restoration of food webs can lead to enhanced functioning and stability across disparate ecosystems, such as seagrasses and salt marshes. I also demonstrate that human threats to coastal ecosystems, in the form of anthropogenic nutrient loading and subsequent eutrophication induced hypoxia, can propagate to adjacent ocean ecosystems with consequences to important ecosystem services, such as provision of biodiversity and fishery production, which in turn are mediated by climatic forcing. In this case, El Niño events across the northeast Pacific modulate hypoxic conditions and the nursery function of estuaries. Taken together, results from my research demonstrate that both top predator recovery and climate can fundamentally regulate ecosystem functioning and stability in the face of extreme anthropogenic stress, which ultimately will inform future research and conservation efforts in the northeast Pacific.


Brent Hughes is a David H. Smith Postdoctoral Conservation Scholar from the University of California Santa Cruz and Duke University. His primary research interest is determining the key biotic and abiotic forces that affect the stability and functioning of coastal ecosystems. Specifically his research examines the interactive effects between food web dynamics, climate, and anthropogenic stressors on the stability of foundation species, such as seagrasses, salt marshes, and kelps. In turn, he studies how variation in coastal foundation species influences the diversity and functioning of ecosystems, such as the provision of habitat for species of ecological and commercial importance. The goal of his research is to better inform management on the drivers of coastal ecosystem stability and resilience. He received his B.A. from Truman State University in 2001, his M.S. from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in 2007, and his Ph.D. from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2014 where he was a National Estuarine Research Reserve Graduate Research Fellow. In between all of these educational experiences he served in the AmeriCrops, was a community college instructor at Cabrillo College where he taught Ecology, a Research Analyst at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ Marine Pollution Studies Lab, and an Estuarine Ecologist at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.


Dynamics in the Sea: Marine Reserves

Dr. Alan Hastings is interested in a range of topics in theoretical ecology and population biology, and more generally in mathematical biology. He is a Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. He is also a member of the Center for Population Biology. Prof. Hastings completed his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics at Cornell University in 1977 under the supervision of Simon A. Levin and has been at UC Davis (located in beautiful Davis, California) since 1979. Prof. Hastings the founding Editor in Chief of the journal Theoretical Ecology, published by Springer. More recently, he coedited with Lou Gross The Encyclopedia of Theoretical Ecology, published by UC Press.


Dr. Hastings will discuss a variety of issues that arise in the design and assessment of marine protected areas. He will begin with basic issues, then emphasize the importance of taking into account multiple species and heterogeneity. Finally, especially in the context of assessment, he will emphasize the absolute necessity of taking a dynamic view rather than looking at static or long term behavior. He will emphasize examples from the Caribbean as well as California.


Ecology and Conservation in Nearshore Ecosystems



Dr. Adrian Stier’s research program is motivated by a desire to deepen our basic understanding of how ecosystems are assembled and an urgent need to develop rapid recovery and sustainable management strategies for exploited systems. The unifying thread linking his work is an interest in how trophic interactions drive the assembly, biodiversity and stability of biological systems and the application of these principles to conservation and management. Dr. Stier’s approach combines quantitative methods, field experiments, and interdisciplinary collaboration to advance basic ecology and inform ecosystem based management.


Piecing together the diet of Southern Resident Killer Whales from fish scales, tissue biopsies, and poop

The listing of Southern Resident killer whales under the Endangered Species Act in 2005 resulted in the need identify potential risk factors to the population.  A primary risk factor identified at that time was prey availability.  However, before this risk factor could be properly evaluated we needed to know the whale’s diet across seasons.  Although fish scales collected from whale predation events indicated that Chinook salmon was the predominant prey item in their San Juan Island summer range, we needed to enlist other tools to confirm this result, determine which Chinook stocks were important, as well as determine diet in other seasons.  We developed a way to assess diet composition by quantifying prey DNA from whale feces which showed that several fish species besides Chinook make important contributions to whale diet in the summer and other seasons.  The advent and application of the Genetic Stock Identification baseline for Chinook allowed us to determine the origins of these fish, identifying key watersheds that are important sources of this prey species.  We collected biopsy samples which allowed diet to be assessed on a broader time frame.   Stable isotopes ratios in the skin showed that over the approximately two months prior to sampling the whale’s diet was broader than exclusively Chinook and contaminant ratios in the blubber illustrated long-term differences in diet between pods in the whale population.  From this combination of approaches a more comprehensive picture of Southern Resident killer whale diet is emerging that will aid managers in assessing potential impacts of prey availability on this population.


Brad Hanson joined the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in April of 2003. Previously, Brad worked as a Wildlife Biologist at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, WA. Brad received a Ph.D. from the University of Washington where he worked on the development of improved tag attachment systems for small cetaceans. He also holds an M.S. in Fisheries from the University of Washington and a B.A. in Zoology also from the University of Washington.


Marine Vessel Traffic in the Aleutian Archipelago and Arctic: Mitigating Risks to Food Security and the Environment



Of Fish and Men: The Western Flyer, John Steinbeck, Doc Ricketts, and Pacific Fisheries



Marine Brieuc: Title TBD


Kristin Gruenthal: Genetics, life history, and the management of highly fecund marine species