Areas of Study
Following each description is a list of the MIT and WHOI faculty involved with that area of study.
Benthic ecologists are interested in populations of organisms and habitats on the ocean floor. Investigations range from theoretical studies of population biology and community ecology, theoretical and field investigations of dispersal and recruitment in shallow water habitats with emphasis on the interaction of these processes with hydrodynamic forces, to experimental and field investigations of the distribution, dynamics, and population genetic structure of species in the deep sea.
Study organisms include invertebrates and fish in both their adult and larval stages, and much research focuses on how these different life stages interact with oceanic flows to determine the distribution and abundance of species.
Microbial ecology and biogeochemistry
Microbial studies encompass the distribution, abundance, physiological status, and growth rates of microoganisms as well as their symbiotic interactions, population diversity and dynamics, and biochemical adaptations. Biogeochemists are interested in the interactions of biological, geological, and chemical processes. Investigations focus on nutrient cycles, air-sea interactions, nutrient regeneration in benthic habitats, and biogenic trace gases.
Biogeography and systematics
Biogeography and systematics focus on the diversity of living and fossil organisms and their change in distribution and characteristics over spatial and temporal scales. An understanding of phylogenetics and evolutionary relationships of different organisms has been facilitated by modern molecular biological techniques in conjunction with traditional approaches to the study of evolutionary biology.
Faculty: Tim Shank
Environmental toxicology and developmental biology
The toxic effects of environmental contaminants can be manifested at different levels of biological hierarchy within an organism to population-level consequences. Through a combination of studies at the cellular level, demographic population models, experimental studies and field investigations, scientists are adding new insights to our understanding of how toxic chemicals affect the ecology of marine organisms.
Plankton ecology includes studies of some of the smallest organisms in the world's oceans—microbes, phytoplankton, and zooplankton. Investigators use a variety of techniques to study the distribution and abundance of these organisms and current studies focus on population dynamics and genetics, biophysical interactions, remote sensing, kinetics of nutrient assimilation, ecology and physiology of gelatinous zooplankton, and symbiotic relationships.
The study of marine mammals is focused on several distinct but complementary lines of investigation ranging from comparative studies of auditory systems, social behavior and communication, population dynamics, toxicology, and conservation biology.
Mathematical ecology and conservation
WHOI biologists are using modeling, ecological theory, and state-of-the-art computer systems to examine the ecological processes that lead to the complex spatial and temporal patterns of organisms in the marine environment. The research focuses on population and community dynamics, life-history theory, and interactions of marine populations with the physical environment. These studies are contributing to an understanding of the demography of individual marine species, conservation biology, and the effects of pollutants on marine populations.