Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Mark J. Brush

Associate Professor of Marine Science

Email : [[brush]]
Phone : (804) 684-7402
Office : Andrews Hall 336
Department : Biological Sciences
Address : P.O. Box 1346 Gloucester Pt., VA 23062-1346, USA

Research Web Site

Listen to a recent invited presentation delivered by Dr. Brush entitled, "Modeling the response of coastal ecosystems to nutrient loading and climate change" at the Featured Minisymposium on Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems, SIAM Conference on Application of Dynamical Systems, Snowbird, UT.

  • B.S., Cornell University, 1995
  • Ph.D., University of Rhode Island, 2002
Research Interests

“Each day as the sun rises and retires the beautiful green bays like great creatures breathe in and out.” 
- Howard T. Odum (1956)

I am a coastal systems ecologist and modeler.  Systems ecology is the study of ecosystems as holistic entities made up of multiple interacting components, and seeks to understand ecosystem function by application of quantitative tools including empirical data analysis and simulation modeling.  We strive to maintain a balance between observational-based ecological investigations and synthetic, interdisciplinary ecosystem modeling.  Our research program focuses on the ecology of estuaries and lagoons, and spans a range of scales from large estuaries like Chesapeake Bay to sub-estuaries like the York River to very shallow systems like the lagoons of the Delmarva Peninsula.  We are particularly interested in systems with a diversity of primary producers (e.g. phytoplankton, benthic microalgae, macroalgae, SAV, and epiphytes), their response to nutrient enrichment or reduction, the processes leading to algal blooms and hypoxia / anoxia, the processes controlling ecosystem metabolism, and the processes of eutrophication and oligotrophication.  Work in our lab has also involved modeling of watershed loads and linking lower trophic level models to those for higher trophic levels including fish and shellfish to understand system responses to multiple stressors operating at both ends of the food chain (i.e. bottom-up and top-down controls).  The models we develop tend to follow an alternative, reduced-complexity approach that incorporates a combination of mechanistic, empirical, and statistical functions for the purpose of (1) heuristic study of ecosystem structure and function and (2) application of models to address management questions. 

Current Projects

Virginia & Delmarva Peninsula:

  • Forecasting watershed loading and lagoon response along the Delmarva Peninsula due to changing landuse and climate.  Virginia-Maryland-Delaware Sea Grant (regional award), 2012-2014.  PIs:  M.J. Brush, L.A. Harris, J.K. York, K.D. Kroeger, I.C. Anderson, and W.R. Boynton.
  • Developing strategies to sustain hard clam aquaculture while minimizing impacts on water quality and nutrient dynamics.  Virginia Sea Grant, 2012-2014.  PIs:  I.C. Anderson, M. Luckenbach, and M.J. Brush.

  • A model for estimating the TMDL-related benefits of oyster reef restoration in Harris Creek, MD.  National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Oyster Recovery Partnership, Inc, 2013.  PIs:  L. Kellogg, M.J. Brush, and E.W. North.

  • Collaborative research:  microbial regulation of greenhouse gas N2O emission from intertidal oyster reefs.  NSF BioOCE, 2012-15.  PIs:  B. Song, C.R. Tobias, M.F. Piehler, and M.J. Brush.   

New River Estuary, NC:

  • Coupled ecosystem modeling of the NRE for research, synthesis, and management.  SERDP Defense Coastal / Estuarine Research Program, DoD, 2012-17.  PI:  M.J. Brush.

  • Climatic drivers regulating benthic – pelagic carbon and associated nutrient exchanges in the New River Estuary.  SERDP Defense Coastal / Estuarine Research Program, DoD, 2012-17.  PIs:  I.C. Anderson, M.J. Brush, C.R. Tobias, B. McKee, and S. Ensign.

Narragansett Bay, RI:

  • Observations and modeling of Narragansett Bay hypoxia and its response to nutrient management.  NOAA Coastal Hypoxia Research Program, 2011-2015.  PIs:  D.L. Codiga, C. Kincaid, S. Nixon, S. Granger, C. Oviatt, H. Stoffel, D. Ullman, S. Kiernan, C. Deacutis, W. Prell, J. Vaudrey, J. Kremer, and M. Brush.
Selected Publications
  • Lake*, S.J., M.J. Brush, I.C. Anderson, and H.I. Kator.  In press.  Internal versus external drivers of periodic hypoxia in a coastal plain tributary estuary:  the York River, Virginia.  Marine Ecology Progress Series.

  • Anderson, I.C., M.J. Brush, M.F. Piehler, C.A. Currin, J.W. Stanhope, A.R. Smyth, J.D. Maxey, and M.L. Whitehead.  2013.  Impacts of climate related drivers on the benthic nutrient filter in a shallow photic estuary.  Estuaries and Coasts, DOI 10.1007/s12237-013-9665-5.

  • Moran, S.B., S.L. Stachelhaus, R.P. Kelly, and M.J. Brush.  2013.  Submarine groundwater discharge as a source of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus to coastal ponds of southern Rhode Island.  Estuaries and Coasts, DOI 10.1007/s12237-013-9663-7.
  • Giordano*, J.C.P., M.J. Brush, and I.C. Anderson.  2012.  Ecosystem metabolism in shallow coastal lagoons:  patterns and partitioning of planktonic, benthic, and integrated community rates.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 458: 21–38.

  • Harris, L.A. and M.J. Brush. 2012. Bridging the gap between empirical and mechanistic models of aquatic primary production with the metabolic theory of ecology: An example from estuarine ecosystems. Ecological Modelling 233:83-89.
  • Lake*, S.J. and M.J. Brush.  2011.  The contribution of microphytobenthos to total productivity in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.  Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 95:289-297.

  • Giordano*, J.C.P., M.J. Brush, and I.C. Anderson.  2011.  Quantifying annual nitrogen loads to Virginia’s coastal lagoons: sources and water quality response.  Estuaries and Coasts 34:297–309.
  • Lynch, P.D., M.J. Brush, and R.J. Latour.  2011.  Simulated short-term impacts of the Atlantic menhaden reduction fishery on Chesapeake Bay water quality.  North American Journal of Fisheries Management 31(1):70-78.

  • Brush, M.J. and L.A. Harris (eds).  2010.  Special issue of Ecological Modelling:  "Advances in Modeling Estuarine and Coastal Ecosystems:  Approaches, Validation, and Applications".  Ecological Modelling 221.

  • Brush, M.J. and L.A. Harris.  2010.  Introduction to the special issue of Ecological Modelling:  "Advances in Modeling Estuarine and Coastal Ecosystems:  Approaches, Validation, and Applications".  Ecological Modelling 221:965-968.

  • Brush, M.J. and S.W. Nixon.  2010.  Modeling the role of macroalgae in a shallow sub-estuary of Narragansett Nay, RI (USA).  Ecological Modelling 221:1065-1079.

  • Kremer, J.N., J. Vaudrey, D. Ullman, D. Bergondo, N. LaSota, C. Kincaid, D. Codiga, and M.J. Brush.  2010.  Simulating property exchange in estuarine ecosystem models at ecologically appropriate scales.  Ecological Modelling 221:1080-1088.

  • Lynch, P.D., M.J. Brush, E.D. Condon, and R.J. Latour.  2010.  Net removal of nitrogen through ingestion of phytoplankton by Atlantic menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus in Chesapeake Bay.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 401:195-209.

  • Brush, M.J. and J.W. Brawley.  2009.  Adapting the light · biomass (BZI) models of phytoplankton primary production to shallow marine ecosystems.  Journal of Marine Systems 75:227-235.

  • Li, Y., M.J. Brush, H.V. Wang, I.C. Anderson, and G.M. Sisson.  2008.  Effects of benthic microalgae on eutrophication processes - a laboratory experiment and the model simulation.  Pp. 590-606 in:  M.L. Spaulding (ed.), Estuarine and coastal modeling:  proceedings of the tenth international conference, November 5-7, 2007, Newport, RI.  American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, VA.

  • Brush, M.J. and S.W. Nixon.  2003.  Biomass layering and metabolism in mats of the macroalga Ulva lactuca L.  Estuaries 26(4A):916-926.

  • Brawley, J.W., M.J. Brush, J.N. Kremer, and S.W. Nixon.  2003.  Potential applications of an empirical phytoplankton production model to shallow water ecosystems.  Ecological Modelling 160(1-2):55-61.

  • Latour, R.J., M.J. Brush, and C.F. Bonzek.  2003.  Toward ecosystem-based fisheries management: strategies for multispecies modeling and associated data requirements.  Fisheries 28(9):10-22.

  • Brush, M.J., J.W. Brawley, S.W. Nixon, and J.N. Kremer.  2002.  Modeling phytoplankton production:  problems with the Eppley curve and an empirical alternative.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 238:31-45.

  • Brush, M.J. and S.W. Nixon.  2002.  Direct measurements of light attenuation by epiphytes on eelgrass, Zostera marina L.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 238:73-79.

*  Student author

Current Students
  • Sara Blachman, M.S. student, Topic TBD

  • Britt Dean, M.S. student, "Modulation of watershed nutrient loads by tidal creek ecosystems on the Virginia Eastern Shore"

  • Emily Egginton, M.S. student, co-advised with Dr. Carl Hershner, "Assessing the impact of climate change on proposed restoration of the Lynnhaven ecosystem"
  • Michael Kuschner, M.S. student, "Modeling the effect of shellfish aquaculture and restoration on system-level processes within Mid-Atlantic estuaries"

Past Students
  • Lance Gardner, Ph.D. 2012, "Positive and negative feedbacks within Zostera marina beds within the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia"
  • Juliette Giordano, M.S. 2009, co-advised with Dr. Iris Anderson, "Nutrient loading and system response in the coastal lagoons of the Delmarva Peninsula"

  • Brittani Koroknay, M.S. 2012, "Quantifying watershed loads to a low relief, coastal plain estuary:  the New River Estuary, NC"

  • Sam Lake, Ph.D. 2013, "Modeling the formation of periodic hypoxia in partially mixed estuaries and its response to oligotrophication and climate change"

  • Heather Wiseman, M.S. 2010, "Quantifying the ecosystem role of a suspension and a facultative deposit feeding bivalve in the New River Estuary, NC, with responses to changes in nutrient and sediment inputs"

Courses Taught
  • MSCI 503 – Interdisciplinary Research in Estuarine and Coastal Systems

  • MSCI 649 – Modeling Biological and Ecological Systems (co-instructor with Dr. Robert Latour)

  • MSCI 650 – Estuarine Ecology (co-instructor with Dr. Linda Schaffner)
  • MSCI 698 – Eutrophication Through the Macroscope:  the Life and Legacy of Scott W. Nixon
Faculty and Student Awards
  • Co-PI, 2012 Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP, DoD) Project of the Year for Resource Conservation and Climate Change, awarded to the Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program (DCERP)

  • President, Atlantic Estuarine Research Society, 2012-2014

  • Keynote Speaker, 11th International Estuarine Biogeochemistry Symposium, Atlantic Beach, NC, 2011

  • Graduate Faculty (adjunct appointment), Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, 2009 - present

  • Senior Fellow, Coastal Institute, University of Rhode Island, 2003 - 2006

  • Sara Blachman, VIMS/SMS Hager Fellowship, 2013-14

  • Britt Dean, CERF Student Travel Award, 2013

  • Britt Dean, GK-12 fellowship, 2013-14

  • Sam Lake, Thatcher Prize for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Study, College of William and Mary, 2013

  • Britt Dean, Oceanside Conservation Co., Inc. Scholarship, 2013

  • Sam Lake, SMS Ziegler Student Achievement Award, 2012
  • Juliette Giordano, VIMS Best M.S. Student Paper Award, 2011

  • Sam Lake, GK-12 fellowship, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years
  • Juliette Giordano, Outstanding Student Oral Presentation award, AERS Spring 2009 meeting

  • Juliette Giordano, VIMS Eastern Shore Laboratory research grants, 2007 and 2008

Professional Memberships
Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Efforts
  • Editorial Board/Associate Editor for:  Biogeochemistry, Estuaries and Coasts, Journal of Sea Research

  • Atlantic Estuarine Research Society (AERS) Program Committee Chair (2009-2011), President-Elect (2011-2012), President (2012-2014)

  • Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) Education Committee (2010-present) and Governing Board (2012-2014)

  • Advisory service to local, state, regional, and national management agencies in the Chesapeake region and VA, NC, and RI

  • Technical Review Panel, Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone Modeling Technical Review Meeting, 2013

  • Long Island Sound Study (LISS) Systemwide Eutrophication Model (SWEM) Model Evaluation Group, 2012-13