Marine Physiological Ecology

The Marine Physiological Ecology laboratory at VIMS is directed by Assistant Professor Emily Rivest and is a research unit within the Department of Biological Sciences.

This area of research encompasses four main research interests:

  • Physiology – understanding the biological processes that organisms use to maintain normal function.
  • Ecology - exploring how the physiology of organisms is shaped by their environment, their life history, their food, and their community.
  • Environmental history – elucidating how the previous environmental exposure of an individual or a population shapes its future performance, including ability to tolerate environmental stress.
  • Global change biology – understanding how physiological ecology fits within the scope of long-term anthropogenic ocean change, including multiple-stressor scenarios.

Current research employs communities and ecosystems that are exposed to natural and anthropogenic stressors, examining the current and future impacts of climate or other environmental change. Our emphasis is on physiological, molecular, and ecological responses of marine and estuarine organisms, including plankton, ecologically and economically important benthic invertebrates (e.g. oysters), and foundation species (e.g. intertidal mussels and tropical reef corals). There are multiple ongoing research projects that explore:

  • Mechanisms of acclimatization and adaptation to local environmental conditions.

  • Comparisons of individuals and populations to discover patterns operating from local to global scales.

  • Characterization of physiological plasticity and tolerance across multiple levels of biological organization – whole organism, energy budget, biochemical, genomics. 

Our interdisciplinary work includes manipulative laboratory experiments, field observations, and oceanographic sensor technology.