Coastal & Estuarine Ecology Lab

The Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Lab (CEEL) is a collection of scientists that study aquatic ecology, community ecology, and spatial ecology in the Biological Sciences Department at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, William & Mary. 

The lab is run by ecologist, Christopher J. Patrick, Ph.D.


CEEL primarily works in aquatic ecosystems, such as seagrass meadows and coastal rivers, to address questions of species distribution—where species are, how they got there, and their ability to persist.  We’re interested in how environmental circumstances interact with a species' ability to move from one place to another, and how that affects the spread of species and groups of species at the local-level, regional-level, and landscape-level.   Additionally, we would like to know how these spatial processes impact ecosystem functions.

The questions we ask are broad, so our research integrates across organizational scales of ecology including linkages between animal behavior, populations, communities, ecosystems, and macrosystems.  We address system-specific questions for the purposes of management and conservation, and theoretical questions for the purposes of advancing ecological understanding.

Lab News
A single column table for formatting purposes.
2020 News
  • 4/15/2020 - Two Post-Doctoral Researcher Positions are Available!  Check out Opportunities to learn more!
  • 1/10/2020 - Its official, we've moved!  Over the next year expect to see some changes on this site as we incorporate more about the new programs I'm managing at VIMS.
2019 News
  • 11/10/2019 - The travel continues! Dr. Patrick is in Gainesville, FL for a meeting of the NSF Stream Resiliency Research Coordination Network.  Lots of work to do, but a little bit of time to sneak off and see some cool habitats like the karst springs and Cedar Key.  Big thanks to Matt Whiles for playing host!
  • 11/5/2019 - Dr. Patrick is in Mobile, AL for the Coastal Estuarine Research Federation Bi-Annual Meeting!  Chris is presenting preliminary results from the Hurricane Synthesis Effort and then sticking around for a project meeting for Thallassia Experimental Network!
  • 11/1/2019 - Its official, we are moving institutions!  Chris, Sean, and Alex are heading to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in January!  The remainder of the lab will be joining Derek Hogan's group ( to keep up the field portion of the big coastal rivers project.  We're excited for a new adventure but a little sad to be leaving our friends in south Texas.
  • 10/01/2019 - Happy to share that our project with Hannah Vander Zanden at UF ( has been recommended for funding by the National Academy of Science Engineering and Medicine Gulf Research Program.  We're going to be using stable isotopes to better understand the movement of animals between coastal rivers and downstream estuaries in Texas.
  • 7/15/2019 - We are #NSF Funded again!  Two separate projects were recommended for funding with my Co-PI Derek Hogan.  One project in collaboration with Derek, Kevin McCluney at BGSU (, and Jim Thorpe at Ku ( understanding macrosystem dynamics of crustacean communities along the central flyway of the United States.  The second project in collaboration with Derek, Matt Whiles at UF (, and Amber Ulseth at SHSU ( will be looking at how rainfall gradients drive structure and function of coastal rivers.  Very excited to get these projects kicked off!
  • 6/01/2019 - Wow!  The MarineGEO Texas ( Bioblitz is underway!!  A huge amount of work, lots of visitors, hundreds of species, all being collected to build a genetic barcode library of biological diversity in the Coastal Bend of Texas.  Read more about the effort here:​
  • 5/18/2019 - Dr. Patrick and Sean Kinard head off to Salt Lake City to present their work at the Society for Freshwater Science annual meeting.
  • 5/11/2019 - A huge congratulations to Jennifer Whitt, my first masters student to graduate!
  • 5/5/2019 - Ten hard days of breaking down our Thallasia Experimental Network field site.  A wonderful week full of hard work, good people, diving, and collecting data.  Its been a heck of a year maintaining those plots, but we're sad that its over.
  • 4/28/2019 - The big hurricane synthesis workshop we organized is happening in the Omni in downtown Corpus Christi this week.  What a great event!  We had forty two visiting researchers and it was a hugely successful event!!
  • 4/19/2019 - Sean successfully defends his PhD Thesis Proposal!  One hurdle down on the road to candidacy and his doctorate.  Way to go Sean!!
  • 4/17/2019 - Our paper, "Precipitation and temperature drive continental-scale patterns in stream invertebrate production" was just published in Science Advances!!
  • 4/12/2019 - Jennifer successfully defends her masters thesis!  Way to go!!!
  • 4/5/2019 - Dr. Patrick heads up to Texas State University to give a departmental seminar and go searching for Macrobrachium carcinus with his host, Weston Nowlin.
  • 2/23/2019 - Fernando and Dr. Patrick fly to San Juan, PR to present their Hurricane Harvey research at the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography Winter Meeting.  It was Fernando's first talk and he rocked it!
  • 2/7/2019 - Dr. Patrick heads to New Orleans for the GOMOSES meeting to convene with his fellow NAS fellows
  • 1/27/2019 - The lab all headed together to the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society Meeting in Galveston, TX.  Madison, Jennifer, Sean, Alex, and Fernando all gave posters or presentations!
  • 1/9/2019 - Congrats to our collaborator Scott Tiegs on the publication he lead on drivers of decomposition in rivers and riparian zones throughout the world in Science Advances!  We contribute to the paper and are proud to see it in print!
2018 News
  • 11/19/2018 - We are # NSF Funded again! My proposal with Co-PI's John Kominoski at FIU and Bill McDowell at UNH to run a Hurricane Response Data Synthesis Workshop has been funded by NSF DEB Ecosystems. Learn more!
  • 10/31/2018 - We were notified we received the Harvey Weil Sportmans Conservation Award! The funding will support the MarineGEO Bioblitz in Texas in June, 2019.
  • 10/25/2018 - Dr. Patrick heads to Long Island to give the key-note speech at the annual "Water We Going To Do?" conference about the nutrient and emerging contaminant crisis facing Long Island estuaries. Dr. Patrick spoke about the successful outcomes that applied management has had in the Chesapeake Bay for seagrass and other submersed aquatic vegetation.​
  • 9/25/2018 - Our paper with Lester Yuan in Oikos as a forum article, "The Challenges that Spatial Context Plays for Synthesizing Community Ecology Across Scales" just came out and is an editors selection for highlighting advances in ecological synthesis.
  • 9/21/2018 - Following a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet his fellow fellows, TAMU-CC has issued apress releaseabout Dr. Patrick's NASEM Fellowship.
  • 8/29/2018 - The National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has awarded Dr. Patrick a prestigiousEarly Career Research Fellowshipthrough theGulf Research Program! The award comes with research funds and a series of networking and professional advancement opportunities.
  • 8/23/2018 - Dr. Patrick and Dr. Hogan attended a Hurricane Harvey Research Symposium organized the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. Dr. Patrick presented on a synthesis project looking at a huge diversity of ecosystem responses while Dr. Hogan presented preliminary results from our RAPID project.
  • 6/29/2018 - MarineGEO Field and Sampling 2018 is OVER! We sampled seagrass, mudflats, and oyster reefs in Aransas Bay, Oso Bay, and Laguna Madre for fish, inverts (epifauna, nekton, infauna), water quality, predation rates, seagrass biomass and fouling. Great work everyone!
  • 5/25/2018 - Sean Kinard, Alex Solis, and Chris Patrick head to Detroit, Michigan for the Society for Freshwater Science Annual Meeting! Alex and Sean are giving their first conference posters and Chris is presenting on preliminary results from the big Hurricane Harvey response project.
  • 4/16/2018 - The big seagrass project is underway! Hosting researchers from Smithsonian Ft. Pierce Research Station, we set up a major trophic manipulation experiment in turtle grass beds in Aransas Bay. Part of the Thalassia Experimental Network, we're looking at the affect of climate on top-down vs. bottom-up processes in turtle grass beds. Victoria Jenkins will be heading up the work, performing maintenanceon the cages every two weeks for the next year.
  • 3/30/2018 - Big congratulations to Alex Solis on his Society for Freshwater Science Instars Travel Award! The award will help pay for Alex to attend the big meeting in May.
  • 3/15/2018 - The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant lead byPI Chris Patrick with Co-PIs Derek Hogan and Brandi Reese on a supplemental funding request to the study entitled "RAPID: Measuring the response of stream communities to a punctuated disturbance across a semi-arid to sub-humid gradient". We'll be using the funds to support to REU students in summer 2018. One manipulating consumer controls on ecosystem functioning and the other assessing microbial controls on biological oxygen demand along our aridity gradient.
2017 News
  • 10/2/2017 - Congratulations to Patrick Lab student Jennifer Whitt for winning a USDA HSI Fellowship! For the next year, Jennifer will be learning how to operate unmanned aerial vehicles and incorporate them into her research.
  • 9/21/2017 - The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant lead by PI Chris Patrick with Co-PIsDerek Hogan and Brandi Reeseon a study entitled "RAPID: Measuring the response of stream communities to a punctuated disturbance across a semi-arid to sub-humid gradient". We will conduct a series of field studies to examine the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on ecosystem processes and organisms across trophic levels of coastal streams in mid to south coastal Texas. This work builds off the project funded by the Texas College Research Fund, adding higher frequency data collection and microbial communities to the project design.
  • 8/29/2017 - HURRICANE UPDATE: Corpus Christi was spared the worst of Hurricane Harvey and the Patrick Lab is getting back up and running as lab members return from evacuating. We're thankful that things weren't worse here and our hearts go out to the cities of Rockport, Port Aransas, Houston, and all the small towns in between that were hit hard by Harvey.
  • 8/21/2017 - Welcome to the newest member of the Patrick Lab: Sean Kinard! Sean will be joining our ongoing project studying coastal plain streams along the South Texas precipitation gradient. Check out his research page to learn more about his background and interests.
  • 8/8/2017 - The SAV Synthesis Working Group has it's first big paper out! Led by JJ Orth at VIMS, our paper "Submersed Aquatic Vegetation in Chesapeake Bay: Sentinel Species in a Changing World" made the cover ofBioscience.
  • 8/4/2017 - Dr. Patrick was awarded a contract with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality to perform analyses and summarize data on the current condition of Texas bays and estuaries.
  • 6/30/2017 - TAMUCC's MarinGEO class closes out its first summer semester! Chris and Lee co-led the charge with help from Patrick Lab TA Jennifer Whitt and Smee Lab TA Meredith Diskin. The students and instructors learned about different sampling methods and collected data from seagrass beds, oyster reefs, and mudflats in Aransas Bay, Oso Bay, and the Laguna Madre. Year 1 was a resounding success! Looking forward to next summer.
  • 6/9/2017 - NSF Announces it will be funding the Thallasia Experimental Network (TEN), a study lead by lead PI Justin Campbell, from Smithsonian Ft. Pierce Station, that spans the entire Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The Patrick Lab will be hosting one of the 15 experimental sites. Stay tuned for updates; the work is slated to begin in May of 2018.
  • 6/4/2017 - Dr. Patrick heads to Raleigh, North Carolina for the Society of Freshwater Science (SFS) annual meeting, where he's leading a special session entitled "Practical applications of metacommunity theory for the management of stream and river ecosystems".
  • 5/17/2017 - Dr. Patrick and collaborator Dr. Derek Hogan were awarded a Texas College Research Fund grant to study the effect of climate change on coastal stream ecosystems. We'll be monitoring the structure and function of invertebrate and fish communities in coastal streams along a sharp precipitation gradient.
  • 4/6/2017 - Another new publication led by Dr. Patrick was hit the presses."Land Use and Salinity Drive Chances in SAV Abundance and Community Composition"was accepted inEstuaries and Coasts.
  • 3/3/2017 - Dr. Patrick hostsLauren Yeagerfrom UTMSI as theFridayHRI Seminar Speaker
  • 2/27/2017 - More volunteers! Alex Solis, Victoria Jenkins, and Cristian Camacho from Dr. Patrick's biostats class start volunteering to help with sample processing and field work.
  • 2/17/2017 - Jennifer leaves on her trip to visit her field sites in Hawaii and to present at ASLO!!
  • 02/16/2017 - Our meta-analysis lead by Dr. Matt KornisLinking the Abundance of Estuarine Fish and Crustaceans in Nearshore Waters to Shoreline Hardening and Land Coveris now online early in Estuaries and Coasts! This is a major piece of work on how shoreline alteration impact fish and crustaceans.
  • 02/10/2017 - Dr. Patrick gave an invited talk at UTMSI on “Factors driving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning across scales in aquatic ecosystems”
  • 02/02/2017 - Fernando Carvallo joins the Patrick Lab as an undergraduate technician and researcher.
  • 01/24/2017 - Dr. Patrick flies back to Annapolis to participate in SAV-SYN, a Chesapeake Bay Program Funded Project to synthesize everything we currently know about the drivers of SAV abundance in Chesapeake Bay. The project, lead by Bill Dennison at UMCES Horn Point and JJ Orth at VIMS, has already produced several manuscripts in review with more on the way! Stay tuned!
  • 01/23/2017- Submitted! Chris Patrick, Albert Ruhi, and Jon Lefcheck just fired off a proposal to NSF to investigate drivers of macroecological patterns. Fingers Crossed.
  • 01/20/2017 - John Lister starts working on his capstone project in the Patrick Lab on the relationship between watershed and estuary characteristics on fish, benthic invertebrates, and biogenic habitats.
  • 01/07/2017 - Dr. Patrick heads east to Virginia Commonwealth University to work with Dan McGarveyon an ongoing NSF Research Coordination Network project on drivers of secondary production in streams. Dan and Chris made great progress on the project while working remotely with Wyatt Cross.The modeling is ongoing but it looks like the group is getting closer to some final products.
  • 12/30/2017- We just had a paper accepted for publication in Estuaries and Coasts on how seagrass community composition both modifies stressor response relationships and also is driven by anthropogenic stressors! Stay tuned for the link to the article in press.
2016 News
  • 10/26/2016 - Dr. Patrick attended a workshop at UTMSI to review plans for seagrass restoration to mitigate the impacts of some proposed major construction projects.
  • 10/19/2016 - Jennifer was awarded a small grant from the Parent's Council to support her upcoming trip to ASLO in February! .
  • 9/30/2016 - Dr. Patrick attended a 3-day working group meeting at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Maryland. At the meeting, Dr. Patrick met with collaborators from SERC, VIMS, CBL, and UMCES Horn Point to work on a Bay-wide model for predicting the affects of land-use, water quality, and other stressors on Chesapeake Bay seagrasses. .
  • 9/2/2016 - Dr. Patrick’s proposal Impact of invasive fish removal on macroinvertebrates in Hawaiian Streams has been awarded funding through a College Research Enhancement Grant. This award will support Jennifer’s upcoming trip to Hawaii to perform an additional round of post-fish removal sampling.
  • 08/25/2016 - Welcome new graduate students! David Stoker and Jennifer Whitt recently started in the Patrick Lab. David, a PhD student, will be working on community ecology of south Texas streams. Jennifer, a masters student, is looking at the response of benthic invertebrates to invasive fish removals in Hawaii.
  • 08/23/2016 - Our Biological Invasions Paper on Phragmites invasion in Chesapeake Bay is available for download Great work by student Ben Sciance.