Welcome! The Peterson Community Ecology Lab is part of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, and located at the Southampton Campus.

Research in our lab is very diverse encompassing topics from climate change to restoration.  However, much of our work focuses on two main questions:

  • How do organisms mediate resource flows within the community?
  • How do positive interactions regulate community structure and stability?

spongecomm-redoIn practice, our lab examines a continuum of questions ranging from single species interactions to ecosystem function, giving us a unique perspective on each of these problems. In all of our research, we use quantitative and manipulative experiments to bridge the gap between theory and field systems. We accomplish this through the development of mathematical models that incorporate empirical data as well as designing experiments and analysis that rigorously test theory.

We use manipulative experiments in nearshore marine habitats to examine how “resource providers” affect other members of their communities. Most of our work is with plant-animal interactions within seagrass ecosystems along the eastern coast of the U.S. Despite the recognized importance of seagrasses, the critical environmental factors limiting seagrass assemblages are poorly understood, as are the biological interactions that directly and indirectly affect the health of seagrass ecosystems. Past projects have included looking at the role of sponges in Florida Bay to control phytoplankton blooms and increase light availability to the benthic plant community, the effect of marine protected areas on changing trophic transfer from nearby seagrass foraging grounds on both “no take” and unprotected reefs and how herbivorous fish create nutrient “hot spots” around patch reefs. Current projects in the lab focus on how different predators perceive the same level of habitat complexity, how ocean acidification is changing species interactions between corals and bio-eroding sponges, how clonal foraging from the landscape patch perspective differs from traditional seagrass censusing techniques and the impact of nutrient addition on eelgrass reproductive ecology.

We employ a team approach to problem solving and are carrying out both laboratory and field studies primarily of seagrass-dominated ecosystems at the population and community levels. We have a long-standing interest in elucidating the role played by positive interactions in marine community organization and incorporating positive interactions into current community development models. We are looking for students who are interested in combining community ecology, mathematical modelling and biogeochemistry to address questions pertaining to the biotic role in controlling nearshore community development and stability.

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