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Active projects

Evaluation of the NC Fisheries Reform Act

This project involves many other PIs from East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and UNC Wilmington, all of whom are studying various aspects of the Fisheries Reform Act that was passed in 1997.  Our lab’s role is to develop indicators that could be used for Ecosystem-based fisheries management and to communicate the many changes that are occurring to coastal ecosystems in NC.  Other researchers are comparing management and governance in NC to other states.  A popular news article about the project and a link to how the Fisheries Reform Act transformed fishing in NC can be found here

New York offshore ecosystem survey

In collaboration with Lesley Thorne, Joe Warren and Charlie Flagg at Stony Brook University, we will be monitoring the pelagic ecosystem of the New York Bight with seasonal surveys on the RV Seawolf. We will be conducting visual surveys of cetaceans and seabirds, acoustics to quantify the abundance and distribution of zooplankton and pelagic fishes, carbonate chemistry and collecting data on temperature and salinity. We will be using ecological indicators and statistical modeling to understand predator-prey interactions and the pelagic food web of the New York Bight.


Climate change is causing shifts in the ranges of species around the world. In order to predict the impacts of global warming on fish distribution, understanding and identifying thermal limits, not just thermal preferences is critical. Since the Nye lab moved to UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences, we have been running experiments to examine the critical thermal maximum (CTMax) of select coastal fishes. The CTMax is the temperature at which a fish loses equilibrium and, consequently, swims in a disorganized manner. We plan to use these thermal end points in combination with the critical thermal minimum (CTMin) of fishes to generate a temperature distribution whose values we can input into population and ecosystem models. As there is an established connection between CTMax and CTMin and acclimation temperature, we are acclimating fishes at various setpoints for the thermal endpoint experiments.

Ocean acidification

We have 2 projects on ocean acidification in my lab. The first involves modeling the population level consequences of exposure to high pH in the larval stage of two coastal bivalve species, the hard clam, Mercenaria mercenaria and the bay scallop, Argopecten irradians using inverse demography and matrix population modeling. The second project was recently funded by the NSF to examine the effects of acidification and hypoxia within and across generations in the Atlantic silverside in collaboration with researchers at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point. Our lab will be looking at the physiological mechanisms that allow these fish to adapt to low pH and low DO conditions in the estuary.

Past projects

Collaborative Research: Understanding the impact of warming on the structure and function of marine communities (WARMEM)

The ecosystems in the northwest Atlantic Shelf, including in the Gulf of Maine and Mid-Atlantic Bight have experienced decadal and 30 year warming rates that few large marine ecosystems have ever experienced and encountered marine heatwaves in 2012 and 2016. This study will characterize composition and features of the plankton and fish communities and compare ecosystem changes across space and through time. In particular, comparing the recent thermally stratified period with the 1990s, when reduced salinity led to an abrupt, multi trophic-level community shift, will make it possible to isolate the direct effects of temperature from its influence through hydrography. Warming is causing species to move poleward, leading traditionally cooler ecosystems to resemble warmer ecosystems of the past. This project will use a dynamic food-web model to synthesize how changes in species composition have altered the flow of energy in Gulf of Maine and Mid-Atlantic Bight ecosystems. It will also quantify the stability of these communities and their resilience to perturbations like marine heatwaves, with the expectation that gradual warming causes communities to become more diverse and thus more stable, but perhaps less productive while abrupt warming may have the opposite effect.

Climate-Ocean impacts on Fish, Fisheries, Ecosystems, and Economics (COFFEE!)

We are studying the impacts of extreme events on the ecology of the Gulf of Maine. Part of a large NSF-funded project involving researchers at Gulf of Maine Research Institute, University of Maine, NOAA ESRL and NOAA NWFSC, we at Stony Brook are focused on phenological events on the Northeast US coast and the spatial distribution of lobster and their predators.

Overwintering survival and population dynamics of temperate species

We have conducted laboratory experiments of black sea bass growth and overwintering survival at various temperatures and salinities. We are developing a model to understand how winter duration and severity affect recruitment and ultimately the abundance and distribution of this species. We are doing similar work on blue crabs Calinectes sapidus.

Understanding the impacts of climate change on the distribution, population connectivity, and fisheries for summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) in the Mid-Atlantic

This project is part of a large Sea Grant funded project with Rutgers, UNC Chapel Hill and George Mason University to study the commercially and recreationally important summer flounder. It aims to look at (1) larval connectivity, the (2) interactions between climate variability, shifting distributions, productivity, and the contribution of subpopulations to settlement, (3) the commercial and recreational summer flounder fisheries response to changing abundance, distribution, and age structure, and (4) the impact of climate-driven shifts on stock assessment and fisheries management.

Effects of Storm Barrier Breach on the Great South Bay ecosystem

In 2012, Tropical Storm Sandy ravaged the Northeast causing widespread loss of life and property to many in New York, New Jersey and surrounding areas. The storm caused a breach in Fire Island, the narrow barrier Island that separates Great South Bay on the south shore of Long Island from the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, researchers at Stony Brook University in SOMAS had been sampling Great South Bay prior to the breach. Our part of a large effort to understand the impacts of this storm on coastal ecosystems was to conduct trawl surveys after the breach and compare them to trawl surveys that occurred before the breach. We also will compare ecosystem resilience and maturity using Ecopath with Ecosim. This project was a collaboration with Mike Frisk, Charles Flagg and Bob Cerrato at SOMAS and led by then postdoc, Jill Olin. We have seen changes in salinity, temperature along with changes in species assemblages and spatial distribution after the breach. For more information and the latest pictures from the breach go to