Research

Coastal Field Work: From understanding to restoring systems

We manipulate conditions in the field to determine relationships between environmental factors, diversity, and ecosystem services. Local coastal sites around New York city are excellent places for our field work because of the rich diversity of organisms they house, the environmental gradients they span, the stressors they encompass, and the valuable services they provide. Many coastal communities are also the target of management actions ranging from restoration to harvest management, and a better understanding of how diversity is maintained and why it matters in these areas is essential to motivating, guiding, and valuing management actions.

Much of our current work focuses on oyster reefs and salt marshes. These two once-common local communities provided a host of services to the city, but they've been largely lost over past centuries. There are major efforts to rebuild these areas, but we need to know what factors (species interactions, environmental conditions) are necessary to give restoration activities the best shot at success. To answer these questions we combine our work in "pristine", stable communities with work on restored or degraded sites to consider how diversity changes due to management actions or disturbance. We strive to connect our research to natural resource management. We currently collaborate with the Billion Oyster Project in their efforts to reintroduce oysters to New York Harbor, and our work in Jamaica Bay (in collaboration with Dr. Chester Zarnoch) offers insight on how salt marsh restorations may be best managed in urban sites.

Our work in coastal systems focuses on how species interactions interact with abiotic factors to shape community diversity and ecosystem functioning. Beginning with a focus on non-consumptive effects, the lab's interest has grown to consider how predators, prey, competitors, and mutualists all interact with their environment to influence community composition, contributions to important ecosystem services, and outcomes of management actions. Current work includes how predators impact biogeochemical cycles in salt marshes and oyster reefs and how mutualisms in salt marshes impact marsh restoration practices.

Related Articles (* indicate mentored undergraduate author, ** indicates mentored graduate student author)

Zhu, J.**, and Gosnell, J. S. Ribbed mussels continue to feed and biodeposit in the presence of injured conspecifics and predators. In review for Estuaries and Coasts

Gosnell, J. S., Levine, E.**, and Goetz, E.* Non-consumptive effects of predators on oysters depend on duration and predator identity but not frequency of exposure. In review for Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Zhu, J.**, Zarnoch, C., Gosnell, J. S., Alldred, M, and Hoellein, T. Potential of ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) to enhance growth and nitrogen-removal services in restored salt marshes. Section III:1-42 pp. In press for Final Report of the Tibor T. Fellowship Program, 2017. Hudson River Foundation, S.H. Fernald, D.J. Yozzo and H. Andreyko (eds.).

Zhu, J.**, Zarnoch, C., Gosnell, J. S., Alldred, M, and Hoellein, T. Ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) enhance nitrogen-removal services but not plant growth in restored eutrophic salt marshes. 2019. Marine Ecology Progress Series 631: 67-80.

Gosnell, J.S., Spurgin, K.*, and Levine, E. Caged oysters still get scared: Predator presence and number influence growth in oysters, but only at very close ranges. 2017. Marine Ecology Progress Series 568: 111–122.

Levine, E., Gosnell, J. S., and Goetz, E. Natural cultch type influences habitat preference and predation, but not survival, in reef-associated species. 2017. Restoration Ecology 25: 101-111.

Needles, L. A., Gosnell, J. S., Waltz, T. W., Wendt, D. E., and Gaines, S. D. Trophic cascades in an invaded ecosystem: Native keystone predators facilitate a dominant invader in an estuarine community. 2015. Oikos 124: 1282–1292.

Fakhoury, W.A.*, and Gosnell, J.S. Limits to local adaptation? Some impacts of temperature on Nucella emarginata differ among populations, while others do not. 2014. Marine Biology: 161:1943-1948.

Gosnell, J.S., DiPrima, J.B., and Gaines, S.D. 2012. Habitat complexity impacts persistence and species interactions in an intertidal whelk. Marine Biology 159:2867-2874.

Gosnell, J.S., and Gaines, S.D. 2012. Keystone intimidators in the intertidal: non-consumptive effects of a keystone sea star regulate feeding and growth in whelks. Marine Ecology Progress Series 450:107-114.

Gosnell, J.S. Non-consumptive effects of a keystone intertidal predator and community consequences. 2010 Graduate Student Symposium, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, UCSB.


Quantitative exploration of the drivers and impacts of diversity

We also try to understand principles that govern community structure and functioning by analyzing "big data", developing models to explain and predict how individual, populations, and communities grow, and carrying out meta-analyses to put our field work into the larger context of ecological research. The local organisms and communities we work with are the focus of some of the quantitative work in the lab, such as our efforts to develop models that can be used to determine optimal places to reintroduce oysters or predict future changes in marsh spread and denitrification potential. Our quantitative emphasis also allows us to expand our reach to communities outside of New York (e.g., efforts to quantify large-scale patterns in diversity and impacts in hyperdiverse natural systems such as kelp and rain forests) and consider topics from a broader perspective (e.g., conducting meta-analyses to consider drivers and impacts of non-consumptive effects, developing models that can used to access reintroduction outcome and better ongoing efforts).


Analysis of large-scale patterns in species’ and community traits over time and space and relationships to drivers may be important to identifying and understanding issues beyond the scope of empirical studies. Rapid increases in available data and developments in statistics and computing power allow these patterns to be identified and analyzed. We try to understand principles that govern community structure and functioning by analyzing "big data", developing models to explain and predict how individual, populations, and communities grow, and carrying out meta-analyses to put our field work into the larger context of ecological research.

Related Articles (* indicate mentored undergraduate author, ** indicates mentored graduate student author)

Gosnell, J. S., Vernaya, A.*, Symonds, J.*, Francis, F.*, and Zhu, J**. A meta-analysis of biomass impacts on non-consumptive effects. In preparation for Ecology.

Gosnell, J. S., and Buchbinder, B.* Does fear training work? A meta-analysis. In preparation for Restoration Ecology.

Gosnell, J. S., Dias, A.*, and Shea, P.** Phylogenetic diversity drives carbon storage in tropical forests. In preparation for Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Dornberger, L, Ainsworth, C., Gosnell, J. S., and Coleman, F. C. Developing a PAH exposure dose-response model for fish health and growth. 2016. Marine Pollution Bulletin 109: 259-266.

Gosnell, J.S., Macfarlan, J. A., Shears, N.T., and Caselle, J. E. 2014. A dynamic oceanographic front drives biogeographical structure in invertebrate settlement along Santa Cruz Island, CA. Marine Ecology Progress Series 507:181-196.

Cavanaugh, K.C., Gosnell, J.S., Davis, S. L., Ahumada, J., Boundja, R.P., Clark, D.B., Mugerwa, B., O’Brien, T.G., Rovero, F., Sheil, D. Vasquez, R., and Adelman, S. 2014. Taxonomic diversity and functional dominance correlate with carbon storage in tropical forests on global scales. Global Ecology and Biogeography 23:563-573.

Viola, D. V., Mordecai, E. A., Jaramillo, A. G., Sistla, S. A., Alberton, L. K., Gosnell, J. S., Cardinale, B. J., and Levine, J. M. 2010. Competition-defense tradeoffs and the maintenance of plant diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107: 17217-17222.

Gosnell, J. S., G. Rivera, and R. W. Blob. 2009. A phylogenetic analysis of sexual size dimorphism in turtles. Herpetologica 65:70-81.

Management Connections

Given that biodiversity has many impacts on humans (and vice versa), we seek out opportunities to directly translate our research to conservation and management contexts. Beyond yielding practical results, addressing management questions also often offers unique chances for ecological insight. In the past we have conducted work on the emerging Kellet's whelk fishery in California, and current connections include working with the Billion Oyster Project to determine how to rear and place oysters so they have the best chance of survival in New York waters. We also have an interest in developing a better way of discussing reintroduction progress and outcomes.