Biological Oceanography (BO)

Interested in applying to our MS or PhD programs? View presentations from this year's info sessions.


Information for the Biological Oceanography PhD program and Master's degree program

Biological Oceanography is concerned with the interactions of populations of marine organisms with one another and with their physical and chemical environment. Because these interactions are frequently complex, and because the concepts and techniques draw from many fields, biological oceanography is, of necessity, an interdisciplinary science. Training in physical oceanography, marine chemistry, and several biological areas are therefore pertinent.

Biological oceanography research is conducted on spatial and temporal scales ranging from short-term interactions between individual organisms (mm., sec.) to interdecadal variation in widely dispersed populations. The techniques used are diverse, and even within one space/time domain can include field observations, experimentation in the laboratory, and mathematical modeling.

Research topics include:

  • Primary and secondary productivity and nutrient regeneration
  • Community ecology of benthic and pelagic organisms
  • Food web structure and trophic ecology
  • Population dynamics, habitat changes and disruptions
  • Nonequilibrium ecosystems
  • Microbial ecology and biogeochemical cycling
  • Fishery biology and management
  • Marine mammal ecology and communication
  • Systematics and biogeography
  • Population genetics and evolution
  • Behavior as it affects distributions and food web interactions
  • Climate change impacts including warming, ocean acidification and deoxygenation

California current ecosystems, deep sea biology, kelp forest and coral reef ecology, and polar biology are among the realms addressed. Development and testing of new tools (molecular, optical, acoustic), design of sampling programs, and statistical/mathematical analyses of data and modeling also are significant activities.

Potential advisors for prospective applicants

Prospective PhD and MS applicants should reach out to all potential advisors based on research interests to ascertain whether they are encouraged to apply.  Additionally, PhD program applicants should be aware that funding for PhD students is usually supplied by individual advisers and that such funding is often very limited; hence, securing outside fellowships (e.g., the NSF GRFP) greatly increases the chance of admission. See here for more information concerning funding.

Educational Requirements for Admission

  • One year of general biology is required. Zoology or botany may be substituted for general biology.
  • Preparation should also include at least one course in the following categories: systematics (e.g., invertebrate zoology), ecology, physiology, genetics.
  • In special cases, other advanced courses in mathematics or natural sciences may be substituted for certain required courses.

Applicant evaluation criteria

Factors that are used to evaluate applicants include, but are not limited to, (1) Academic preparation; (2) Scholarly potential; (3) Diversity, equity, and inclusion contributions; (4) Alignment with the program (i.e., fit with the laboratories of prospective advisers); (5) Realistic self-appraisal; and (6) Long-term goals.

If an OBP applicant decides to submit the entirely optional general GRE scores, those scores will be used similarly to the GPA, alongside the applicant’s other materials to inform the holistic assessment of the applicant’s “scholarly potential.”

We reemphasize that a requirement for the acceptance of even excellent applicants is the interest and ability of the prospective main adviser(s) to take on the student; the ability of even an interested adviser to admit is ultimately contingent on the availability of funding, whether from internal or external sources.

Program of Study for PhD

Required course work:

  • SIOC 210 Physical Oceanography (4 units)
  • SIOG 260 Marine Chemistry (4 units)
  • SIOB 280 Biological Oceanography (4 units)
  • Graduate-level course in statistics/quantitative analysis
  • One of the following marine ecosystems courses:
    • SIOB 270 Pelagic Ecology (4 units)
    • SIOB 270A Fisheries Oceanography (4 unit)
    • SIOB 275A Benthic Ecology (4 units)
    • SIOB 277 Deep-Sea Biology (4 units)
  • One of the following marine organisms courses:
    • SIO 183 Phycology: Marine Plant Biology (5 units)
    • SIO 184 Marine Invertebrates (6 units)
    • SIOB 271 Marine Zooplankton (5 units)
    • SIOB 282 Phytoplankton Diversity (4 units)
    • SIOB 294 Biology of Fishes (5 units)
    • SIOB 296 Marine Tetrapods (4 units)
  • One of the following statistical and quantitative analysis courses:
    • SIOB 272 Advanced Statistical Techniques
    • SIOB 276 Quantitative Theory of Populations and Communities
    • SIOB 298 Applied Bayesian Data Analysis
  • Seminar in Biosciences (SIOB 278), Biological Oceanography Graduate Student Presentations (SIOB 296), or equivalent participatory seminar must be taken in at least one quarter of each year in years 2-5, for a total of at least 4 quarters of participatory seminar

With written approval from the student’s advisor and guidance committee members, the student may petition to meet the ecosystem, organism, and statistics/quantitative course requirements with courses not listed here.

Program of Study for MS

Required course work:

  • SIOC 210. Physical Oceanography (4 units)
  • SIOG 260. Marine Chemistry (4 units)
  • SIOB 280. Biological Oceanography (4 units)
  • One of the following:
    • SIOB 270. Pelagic Ecology (4 units)
    • SIOB 270A. Fisheries Oceanography (4 units)
    • SIOB 275A. Benthic Ecology (4 units)
    • SIOB 277. Deep-Sea Biology (4 units)
  • One of the following:
    • SIOB 271. Marine Zooplankton (5 units)
    • SIOB 282. Phytoplankton Diversity (4 units)
    • SIOB 283. Phycology: Marine Plant Biology (5 units)
    • SIOB 284. Marine Invertebrates (6 units)
    • SIOB 294. Biology of Fishes (5 units)
    • SIOB 296. Marine Tetrapods (4 units)

Elective course work:

Other course work will be recommended by the student’s guidance committee, usually including one quarter of SIO 278, Seminar in Ocean Biosciences (or equivalent participatory seminar); a course in introductory parametric statistics; and at least one advanced-level course in physical, chemical, or geological oceanography.

Research in Biological Oceanography

Biological Oceanography Faculty and Researchers:

Emeritus Biological Oceanography Faculty and Researchers: