Mark J. Brush

Mark J. Brush

Associate Professor

Email: [[brush]]
Phone: (804) 684-7402
Interests: Coastal systems ecology; Ecosystem modeling
Office: Andrews Hall 334F
Department: Biological Sciences
Address: P.O. Box 1346 Gloucester Pt., VA 23062-1346, USA

Research Web Site
  • 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.  Systems ecology is the study of ecosystems as holistic and interconnected entities made up of multiple interacting biotic and abiotic components, focuses on the inputs, cycling, and outflows of material and energy, and seeks to understand ecosystem function by application of a range of quantitative tools including synthetic data analysis, experimentation, material budgets, and simulation modeling.  Our research program maintains a balance between observational-based ecological investigations, synthesis of long-term datasets, and interdisciplinary ecosystem modeling, and is focused on the ecology of estuaries and other coastal ecosystems spanning a range of scales including (1) cross-latitudinal studies of estuarine response to anthropogenic stressors, (2) large, relatively deep estuaries like Chesapeake Bay, (3) tributary estuaries like the York River, VA, and (4) relatively shallow systems including the tidal creeks of the lower Chesapeake Bay and coastal bays 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 and reduction (e.g. eutrophication and oligotrophication), interactions of these processes with other stressors including climate change (e.g. warming, variable hydrology, and acidification), and interactions with higher trophic levels including filter feeding oysters, clams, and fish.  Study topics typically include quantification of watershed nutrient loading and concomitant impacts to water quality including phytoplankton and harmful algal blooms, macroalgal proliferation, and hypoxia/anoxia, estuarine cycling of carbon and nutrients, net ecosystem metabolism, carrying capacity for restored and cultured shellfish, and ecosystem-level benefits of shellfish restoration and culture.  Projects in our lab are typically characterized by a combination of field surveys (e.g. water quality), laboratory incubations (e.g. rates of primary production and respiration), manipulative experiments, analysis of long-term datasets, and use of those data to develop and calibrate ecosystem models.  The models we develop tend to employ 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.  In recent years we have developed the capability to serve these models online with user-friendly, graphical interfaces to allow stakeholders to conduct their own model scenarios to inform management, policy, and restoration. 

Current Projects

Grant/contract-funded projects:

  • A decision-support model for computing sediment and nutrient removals from living shoreline restoration in the lower Chesapeake Bay. Honda Marine Science Foundation, 2021-2023. PIs: Brush, M.J., M.M. Mitchell, D.M. Bilkovic, and B. Song.

  • RVA-OA2020: Vulnerability of oyster aquaculture and restoration to ocean acidification and other co-stressors in the Chesapeake Bay. NOAA, 2020-2023. PIs: Friedrichs, M.A.M., D. Wrathall, E. Rivest, M. Brush, P. St-Laurent, K. Hudson, and B. Vogt.

  • Thresholds 2018: Can submerged aquatic vegetation meadows mitigate ocean acidification thresholds for Eastern oysters in the Chesapeake Bay? NOAA, 2018-2021. PIs: Rivest, E.B., M.J. Brush, R.C. Zimmerman, and V. Hill.

  • Alteration of carbon fluxes by intense phytoplankton blooms in a microtidal estuary. NSF – Biological Oceanography, 2018-2021. PIs: Anderson, I.C., M.J. Brush, B. Song, and K.S. Reece. 

State/VIMS-funded projects:

  • Quantification of aquaculture carrying capacity in Cherrystone Inlet, VA. 2020-2021.
  • Modeling the ecosystem benefits of oyster restoraiton in the Lafayette River, VA. 2021-2022.
  • SAV-aquaculture interactions on the VA Eastern Shore (state initiative). 2021-present.
Selected Publications (last 10 years)
  • Kim, J., M.J. Brush, B. Song, and I.C. Anderson. In press. Reconstructing primary production in a changing estuary: A mass balance modeling approach. Limnology and Oceanography.

  • Rose, J.M., J.S. Gosnell, S. Bricker, M.J. Brush, A. Colden, L. Harris, E. Karplus, A. Laferriere, N.H. Merrill, T.B. Murphy, J. Reitsma, J. Shockley, K. Stephenson, S. Theuerkauf, D. Ward, and R.W. Fulweiler. In press. Opportunities and challenges of including oyster-mediated denitrification in nitrogen management plans. Estuaries and Coasts.

  • Brush, M.J., P. Mozetič, J. Francé, F. Bernardi Aubry, T. Djakovac, J. Faganeli, L. Harris, and M. Niesen. 2021. Phytoplankton dynamics in a changing environment. Ch. 4 in: Malone, T.C., A. Malej, and J. Faganeli (eds.), Coastal Ecosystems in Transition: A Comparative Analysis of the Northern Adriatic and Chesapeake Bay, Geophysical Monograph 256. American Geophysical Union, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • Brush, M.J., M. Giani, C. Totti, J. Testa, J. Faganeli, N. Ogrinc, W.M. Kemp, and S. Fonda. 2021. Eutrophication, harmful algae, oxygen depletion, and acidification. Ch. 5 in: Malone, T.C., A. Malej, and J. Faganeli (eds.), Coastal Ecosystems in Transition: A Comparative Analysis of the Northern Adriatic and Chesapeake Bay, Geophysical Monograph 256. American Geophysical Union, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • Christensen, N.L., P.A. Cunningham, K. Matthews, I.C. Anderson, M.J. Brush, S. Cohen, C.A. Currin, S. Ensign, N.S. Hall, P.N. Halpin, M.L. Kirwan, J.R. McNinch, H.W. Paerl, M.F. Piehler, A.B. Rodriguez, C.R. Tobias, and J.R. Walters. 2021. Ecosystem-based management for military training, biodiversity, carbon storage, and climate resiliency on a complex coastal land/water-scape. Journal of Environmental Management 280:111755.

  • Testa, J.M., J. Faganeli, M. Giani, M.J. Brush, C. De Vittor, W.R. Boynton, S. Covelli, W.M. Kemp, N. Kovač, and R. Woodland. In press. Advances in our understanding of pelagic-benthic coupling. Ch. 8 in: Malone, T.C., A. Malej, and J. Faganeli (eds.), Coastal Ecosystems in Transition: A Comparative Analysis of the Northern Adriatic and Chesapeake Bay, Geophysical Monograph 256. American Geophysical Union, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • Brush, M.J. and S.W. Nixon. 2017. A reduced complexity, hybrid empirical-mechanistic eutrophication and hypoxia model for shallow marine ecosystems. Chapter 4 in: Justic, D., K.A. Rose, R.D. Hetland, and K. Fennel (eds.), Modeling coastal hypoxia: numerical simulations of patterns, controls and effects of dissolved oxygen dynamics. Springer.

  • Crosswell, J.R., I.C. Anderson, J.W. Stanhope, B. Van Dam*, M.J. Brush, S. Ensign, M.F. Piehler, B. McKee, M. Bost, and H.W. Paerl. 2017. Carbon budget of a shallow, lagoonal estuary: transformations and source-sink dynamics along the river-estuary-ocean continuum. Limnology and Oceanography 62(S1):S29–S45.

  • Murphy*, A.E., K.A. Emery, I.C. Anderson, M.L. Pace, M.J. Brush, and J.E. Rheuban. 2016. Quantifying the effects of commercial clam aquaculture on C and N cycling: an integrated ecosystem approach. Estuaries and Coasts. DOI 10.1007/s12237-016-0106-0

  • Brush, M.J. and L.A. Harris. 2016. Ecological modeling. Pp. 214-223 in: Kennish, M.J. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Estuaries. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series, Springer Netherlands.

  • Ganju, N.K., M.J. Brush, B. Rashleigh, A.L. Aretxabaleta, P. del Barrio, J.S. Grear, L.A. Harris, S.J. Lake, G. McCardell, J. O’Donnell, D.K. Ralston, R.P. Signell, J.M. Testa, and J.M.P. Vaudrey. 2016. Progress and challenges in coupled hydrodynamic-ecological estuarine modeling. Estuaries and Coasts 39:311–332.

  • Fields*, L., J. Mercer, K.J. Hyde, M.J. Brush, S.W. Nixon, C.A. Oviatt, M.L. Schwartz, D. Ullman, and D. Codiga. 2015. A comparison of surface chlorophyll, primary production, and satellite imagery in two adjacent hydrographically different sounds off Southern New England, USA. Marine Ecology Progress Series 535:29–45.

  • Lake*, S.J. and M.J. Brush. 2015. Modeling estuarine response to load reductions in a warmer climate:  the York River Estuary, Virginia, USA. Marine Ecology Progress Series 538:81–98.

  • Lake*, S.J. and M.J. Brush. 2015. Contribution of nutrient and organic matter sources to the development of periodic hypoxia in a tributary estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 38:2149–2171.

  • Brush, M.J. 2014. Dedication: Dr. Scott W. Nixon (1943–2012). Special issue on Shallow Coastal Photic Systems, Estuaries and Coasts 37 (Suppl 1):S1–S2.

  • 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. 2014. Impacts of climate related drivers on the benthic nutrient filter in a shallow photic estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 37 (Suppl 1):S46–S62.

  • Jarvis*, J.C., M.J. Brush, and K.A. Moore. 2014. Modeling loss and recovery of Zostera marina beds in the Chesapeake Bay following repeated disturbance events: the role of seedlings and seed-bank viability. Aquatic Botany 113:32-45.

  • Kennish, M.J., M.J. Brush, and K.A. Moore (eds). 2014. Drivers of change in shallow coastal photic systems.  Estuaries and Coasts 37 (Suppl 1).

  • Kennish, M.J., M.J. Brush, and K.A. Moore. 2014. Drivers of change in shallow coastal photic systems: an introduction to the special issue. Estuaries and Coasts 37 (Suppl 1):S3–S19.

  • Moran, S.B., S.L. Stachelhaus, R.P. Kelly, and M.J. Brush.  2014.  Submarine groundwater discharge as a source of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus to coastal ponds of southern Rhode Island.  Estuaries and Coasts 37:104-118.

  • Lake*, S.J., M.J. Brush, I.C. Anderson, and H.I. Kator. 2013. Internal versus external drivers of periodic hypoxia in a coastal plain tributary estuary:  the York River, Virginia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 492:21-39.

  • Sturdivant*, S.K., M.J. Brush, and R.J. Diaz. 2013. Modeling the effect of hypoxia on macrobenthos production in the lower Rappahannock River, Chesapeake Bay, USA. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84140. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084140.

  • 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.

*  Student author

Current Students
  • Anna Caputo, M.A. student (capstone advisor)
  • Emma Dodsworth, M.S. student (co-advised with Molly Mitchell)
  • Abigail Golder, Ph.D. student (co-advised with BK Song)
  • Stephanie Peart, Ph.D. student
  • Christina Rarick, Ph.D. student
Past Students
  • Michelle Woods, M.S. 2021 (co-advised with Iris Anderson)
  • Jongsun Kim, Postdoc 2019-2020
  • Shanna Williamson, M.S. 2018
  • Sara Blachman, M.S. 2016
  • Britt Dean, M.S. 2016
  • Michael Kuschner, M.S. 2015
  • Emily Skeehan, M.S. 2015, co-advised with Dr. Carl Hershner
  • Sam Lake, Ph.D. 2013, Postdoc 2013-2015
  • Brittani Koroknay, M.S. 2012
  • Lance Gardner, Ph.D. 2012
  • Heather Wiseman, M.S. 2010
  • Juliette Giordano, M.S. 2009, co-advised with Dr. Iris Anderson
Courses Taught
  • MSCI 330 – Introduction to Marine Science
  • MSCI 331 – Coastal Marine Environments (co-instructor)
  • MSCI 503 – Interdisciplinary Research in Estuarine and Coastal Systems
  • MSCI 649 – Ecosystem Modeling
  • MSCI 650 – Estuarine Ecology
Faculty and Student Awards
  • 2016 Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence, College of William and Mary
  • 2016 Keynote speaker, Spring meeting, Atlantic Canada Coastal and Estuarine Science Society
  • 2013 VIMS Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award
  • 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)
  • 2011 Keynote speaker, 11th International Estuarine Biogeochemistry Symposium
Professional Memberships
Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Efforts
  • Editorial Board/Associate Editor for:  Biogeochemistry (2012-15), Estuaries and Coasts (2013-present), Journal of Sea Research (2010-15)

  • Atlantic Estuarine Research Society (AERS) Program Committee Chair (2009-2011), President-Elect (2011-2012), President (2012-2014), Past President (2014-2015), Nominations Chair (2015-present)

  • Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) Education Committee (2010-2014), Governing Board (2012-2014), Ad Hoc Governance Task Force (2014-2015), Affiliate Society Presidents Committee (2014-2015), Member-at-Large (2015-2019), Conference Co-Chair (2019-2021)

  • 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