Current Members

Petersongear-redoDr. Bradley J. Peterson – My research is focused on understanding the role of organisms in changing resource availability within their communities and how these interactions might affect community development and stability. I use manipulative experiments in nearshore marine habitats to examine how “resource providers” affect other members of their communities. Most of my 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 the possibility of herbivorous fish creating nutrient “hot spots” around patch reefs. One future direction within my lab will be to focus on positive interactions, bentho-pelagic coupling in near shore environments, and ecosystem engineering. We have investigated the role of hard clams in alleviating light stress of eelgrass by providing elevated nutrients to the sediments via their fecal production and the consequences of the dramatic decrease in hard clam abundance within the Long Island south shore estuaries on eelgrass spatial distribution.

Brad Peterson did his PhD under Dr. Ken Heck

Current Students


Rebecca Kulp (Ph.D. student) – I am a PhD candidate in the Peterson laboratory. I am interested in exploring how predator size alters their perception of habitat landscapes, and understanding how this perception affects foraging success. I am applying my dissertation questions to slipper snail (Crepidula fornicata) and seagrass (Zostera marina) beds, and using the Sayi mud crab (Dysapanopeus sayi) and green crab (Carcinus maenas) as model small and large predators. Dyspanopeus sayi can be found in very high densities, unlike larger decapod predators like C. maenas. I am interested in determining how smaller predator consumption rates are influenced by prey density, predation, and competition, and whether they are influenced differently than larger predators within the same habitat landscapes. Understanding whether smaller predators perceive habitat complexity differently from large predators can inform and improve our community and food web models.


Diana Chin (Ph.D. student) – I am a Ph.D. student in the Peterson lab with broad interests in community ecology and restoration. My academic and professional backgrounds are in marine science and environmental risk assessment. My current research focuses on interactions between seagrasses and chemosymbiotic bivalves (solemyid and lucinid clams). I am also interested in the effects that the life habits of these bivalves have on sediment chemistry and how they may affect the resilience of seagrass ecosystems to multiple environmental stressors.


Stephen Heck (Ph.D. Student) – I am a Ph.D. student working in the Peterson Lab. I am interested in investigating how anthropogenic activities drive changes in coastal marine ecosystems in order to understand how to best mitigate those impacts. Previously, I have been involved in benthic ecology research surrounding bay scallop restoration efforts in Nantucket, MA. I have also worked on a project using genetics to investigate the population dynamics of sea scallops on the Eastern seaboard. Over the past several years I have become increasingly interested in how habitat characteristics and transient predators influence the structure of seagrass communities.


Amanda Tinoco (M.S. student) – Amanda is a mystery to us all.





Alyson Lowell (Ph.D. student) – I am a PhD student in the Peterson lab. I am interested in mitigating the effects of ocean acidification in tropical and temperate marine communities with the end goal of optimizing experimental systems to modulate pCO2 in situ. I would like to use this system to develop a comprehensive model to investigate trophic relationships in response to elevated pCO2 My academic and professional background spans molecular and cellular biology, neuroscience, and benthic ecology. When I am not buried underneath a mountain of books and papers, I enjoy ambitious cooking projects, rock star autobiographies, and the New York City art scene.

KOToole Kaitlyn O’Toole (M.S. student) – I am currently a Master’s student in the Peterson Lab. I am working to create a model based on water column bio-optical properties to be used towards a habitat suitability model for seagrass restoration in Peconic Bay and Great South Bay. This involves water quality and seagrass assessments throughout both bays, focusing specifically on Zostera marina, or eelgrass. Improvement of water quality in both of these areas has made seagrass restoration feasible, and picking ideal areas for plantings will allow for a more efficient restoration program.

Leah Reidenbach (Ph.D. student) – I will be starting as PhD student in the Peterson lab in Fall 2017. I am broadly interested in how anthropogenically induced environmental changes affect coastal organisms, particularly marine primary producers. I aim to do research which can help us understand how future climate changes, including ocean acidification, warming, and eutrophication, interact to affect seagrass communities. Further, I hope my research can be applied by policy makers and local communities to guide decisions on how to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve water quality for both human and natural communities.

Dylan Cottrell (M.S. student) – I am a master’s student broadly interested in community ecology, seagrass/algal biology, and the links between terrestrial and marine ecosystems. I studied anoxia/hyperoxia as an undergrad and am looking forward to expanding on this work in seagrass beds and starting my graduate studies this fall!


Former Students:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAElizabeth Gomez (M.S. 2015) – A dynamic oyster reef bioenergetics model: predictions of secondary production based on different restoration scenarios




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABrad Furman (Ph.D. 2015) – Space acquisition strategies of Zostera marina

Brad is a postdoctoral research associate with the University of Virginia, based out of Florida.



Amber Stubler (Ph.D 2015) – Effects of anthropogenic stressors on tropical sponge ecology

Amber is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, soon to be an Assistant Professor at Occidental College.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALisa Jackson (M.S. 2014) – The effect of patch dynamics and nutrient availability on the production of Zostera marina seeds within Shinnecock Bay, NY

Lisa is a Biological Scientist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.


John is an Assistant Professor at Georgia Southern University.




 Jamie Brisbin (M.S. 2010) – Genetic Diversity and Gene Flow in Zostera marina Populations Across the Long Island Sound and South Shore Estuaries




Brooke Rodgers (M.S. 2010) – How does groundwater impact eelgrass in Long Island? The role of nitrogen and herbicide in reducing eelgrass growth, survival and photosynthetic efficiency




 Chuck Wall (Ph.D. 2010) – Benthic-pelagic coupling in eutrophic estuaries from the temperate and sub-tropical zones: The contrasting roles of benthic suspension feeding and nutrient loading




Konstantine Rountos (M.S. 2008) – The role of porewater sulfide toxicity among other multiple stressors in Zostera marina populations in Long Island South Shore Estuaries



Alexa Fournier (M.S. 2007) – Hemigrapsus sanguineus in Long Island salt marshes: Survey of an invasive crab and experimental evaluation of its interactions with resident species


Recent Posts

2018 Call for Summer Research Assistants

The Peterson Marine Community Ecology Lab is seeking to interview and select eight to ten (8 – 10) highly motivated volunteer research assistants for summer 2018 to work on several dissertation and monitoring projects. Research hours can be used towards research credit hours with Dr. Bradley Peterson. (High school students, please take note: the minimum age to be considered for a volunteer position with us is 17).

Volunteers will be asked to commit at least two days per week from late May/June through August. Exact starting and end dates are negotiable.

We specifically look for people who are comfortable and enjoy being outdoors, especially in the field on boats and in the water. Volunteers should be in good physical shape and enjoy hands-on work. Ability to swim is a requirement. Certified divers are strongly encouraged to apply.

If interested, please send your CV/resume and a list of available meeting times to Diana Chin and Stephen Heck (, Please note that it is unlikely that you will work exclusively on one project, though you might work primarily on one or two. We think that exploring a variety of research questions and methods is essential to your scientific development!

Summer Research Topics:

Steve Heck: predator-prey interactions among fish, crabs, and bivalves

Steve will be researching how black sea bass influence trophic cascades that govern the survival of bivalves such as blue mussels and bay scallops. Experiments will be conducted both in mesocosm tanks at the Stony Brook University Southampton Marine Station as well as in the field in Shinnecock Bay, NY.

Alyson Lowell: seagrasses and ocean acidification

Alyson will employ a myriad of field and laboratory approaches to investigate how carbon dioxide enrichment affects carbonate chemistry in seagrass communities and whether seagrasses will serve as a refuge for marine organisms in a high CO2 world. Students working with her will be exposed to exciting field and laboratory techniques and will be taught to run successful ocean acidification experiments. Volunteers who are field oriented and SCUBA certified are encouraged.

Kaitlyn O’Toole: water quality and bio-optical modeling

This summer Kaitlyn will be continuing work on a bio-optical model (generally having to do with how much light reaches the bottom of the water column), which will be used to target feasible areas of seagrass restoration. This involves plenty of fieldwork in both Peconic and Great South Bay: water sampling weekly, SCUBA transect dives for site characteristics, productivity and epiphyte measurements in seagrass, sediment sampling, tidal/wave current velocity measurements, and drone imagery of seagrass sites. Kaitlyn is typically out on the water 1-3 times a week, depending on the weather. You will learn how to collect and filter whole water samples, use the equipment to measure water column properties, learn about and snorkel (or SCUBA if certified) around seagrass, learn sampling techniques for seagrass, water, and sediments, and obtain boating experience.

Leah Reidenbach: food webs, invertebrate physiology, and ocean acidification

Leah will be developing a method for using underwater photomosaics as a tool for building food webs in seagrass ecosystems. She will compare food webs across a eutrophication gradient to test if food web characteristics can determine differences in ecosystem stability. Volunteers will get experience with fieldwork and sampling animal tissue for stable isotope analysis. She will also be testing the effects of ocean acidification and temperature on mud crab physiology. Here, volunteers will get experience with setting up ocean acidification experiments and testing animal physiology responses such as respiration and calcification.

Dylan Cottrell: seagrass community ecology

Dylan will broadly focus on species distributions, edge effects, habitat complexity, and/or seagrass community responses along a stress gradient (namely eutrophication).

Other Monitoring and Research

The lab will be deploying eelgrass- and shellfish-based restoration projects and conducting assessments of water quality, seagrass, and fauna in Great South Bay and Shinnecock Bay. For example, Diana Chin will be leading the Peterson lab’s benthic surveys for the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program (ShiRP).

We hope to hear from you soon!

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  2. February 2018 Leave a reply
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