My name is Matt Whalen and I am an Ecology PhD student working with Jay Stachowicz at the University of California at Davis. I am generally interested in how interactions between species shape food webs and in how diversity at multiple scales determines the stability and functioning of ecosystems. I particularly like working with plants and animals in marine systems.
My recent research has explored questions about trophic forcing in eelgrass (Zostera marina) communities. Eelgrass is a biomass-dominant seagrass of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, and like all seagrasses it is a vascular plant that lives and reproduces in marine waters. Seagrass systems are highly productive and support entire food webs by creating dynamic three dimensional structure that acts as habitat for many other organisms. Seagrasses are also cool because they arguably represent the most extreme evolutionary transition of plants from land back to the sea (others include mangroves and salt marsh grasses) as their life cycles are completed entirely ♫ under the sea ♫.
The dominant herbivores found in most temperate seagrass systems are small invertebrates that include crustaceans and snails. These often abundant creatures benefit from the habitat that seagrass provides and, in return, they can benefit the seagrasses indirectly by eating algae that grows on seagrass leaves and intercepts sunlight. I am always struck at how the not-so-easily perceived can have important repercussions in complex biological systems.
My plan for my PhD research is to investigate how physical diversity of habitat types/conditions and biological diversity at multiple trophic levels might determine key ecosystem functions in coastal marine communities (like transfer of energy in food chains and water filtration). Furthermore, I want to know how these processes play out at different temporal and spatial resolutions.
I am also interested in thinking about questions of deep history on our planet, which can tell us about how present patterns of interaction in ecosystems arose, and in figuring out where our ecosystems are headed in the future.
I enjoy being on the water, hiking, brewing beer, cooking delicious food with my girl, and the feeling I get when I see how math and science yield insights into the natural world that exists in and around all of us.
Thanks for visiting and feel free to drop a line.
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