Population & Food Web Ecology
University of North Carolina Wilmington
The Ramirez Lab, based at the University of North Carolina Wilmington Department of Biology and Marine Biology and Center for Marine Science, studies marine population and food web ecology, with an emphasis on expanding understanding of how natural and human stressors alter life history traits, trophic interactions, and marine food web structure and function. To this end, we investigate three primary questions:
How do environmental conditions (e.g., diet, habitat, temperature) shape life history traits (e.g., growth), and how are these relationships altered by global environmental change?
How do anthropogenic stressors alter the flow energy through marine food webs?
What are the cumulative effects of multiple stressors and trait variation on population and community dynamics?
The scope of these questions is broad, spanning multiple biological, temporal, and spatial scales. As a result, we necessarily integrate a variety of traditional and novel techniques, particularly ecogeochemistry (e.g., stable isotopes), sclerochronology, and quantitative modeling. We typically investigate these questions using sea turtles or other marine vertebrates as model organisms in coastal habitats of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. As much of this work is focused on species of conservation concern, we often leverage natural experiments and human disturbance gradients to test ecological theory and build fundamental knowledge pertinent to conservation and management. Developing mechanistic understanding of the drivers of population and food web dynamics in our changing oceans is key to predicting ecological responses to future environmental changes and curbing biodiversity loss.