One aspect of my research focuses on the ecology and behavior of marine birds and how spatial and temporal variability in marine ecosystems, at a variety of scales, influence marine bird foraging opportunities and reproductive performance. For successful and profitable foraging, many marine birds require concentrations of prey much greater than the overall average. My collaborators and I have investigated how various physical forcing mechanisms, in conjunction with the behavior of prey, result in the availability of profitable foraging opportunities. This work has investigated frontal systems, the importance of strong, shallow pycnoclines, tidal pumps, and the potential importance of localized, predictable production-based prey concentrations. This work has also led to an interest in how interannual and longer-scale variability in climate may influence the abundance and availability of prey necessary to support upper trophic level predators in marine ecosystems.
A second facet of my research interests focuses on ecosystem-level investigations of spatial and temporal variability in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands marine ecosystems. In these collaborative, interdisciplinary studies, my colleagues and I have investigated the causes of the spatial heterogeneity in the distribution, abundance, and foraging ecology of marine birds in the Aleutian Archipelago. We have also investigated how interannual variability in extent of sea ice cover and the timing of melt-back can influence not only water column structure, but also the function the Bering Sea and its ability to support post-spring-bloom primary production and a food web, extending to marine birds, dependent on this production. Most recently, we have been investigating the importance of on- and cross-shelf fluxes of nutrients and zooplankton for support of shelf ecosystems, in particular those around the Pribilof Islands in Alaska.
An off-shoot of these studies has been the development of national and international programs for the investigation of how climate variability and warming may affect the sub-arctic seas. One effort, Ecosystem Studies of Sub-Arctic Seas (ESSAS), is a new regional program within the International GLOBEC program. US components of ESSAS are the Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST) program and the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP). ESSAS, BEST and BSIERP focus on how climate variability will impact the ability of marine ecosystems to provide sustainable goods and services, and on how the expected changes in the marine ecosystems of these seas will impact the people and cultures dependent upon them.