Principal Investigator: Dr. Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith

Jen is a coral reef ecologist with primary expertise in benthic communities (marine plants, corals and other invertebrates). Her primary interests are in determining how various physical and biological processes affect the structure and function of marine communities. Jen has been interested in determining how human impacts affect or alter marine communities. Currently Jen and her students are working on understanding how local stressors such as pollution, overfishing or the introduction of invasive species affect coral reefs. Jen’s lab is also working to determine how global stressors associated with climate change such as warming or ocean acidification will alter reef species. Much of the research in the Smith lab is focused on marine conservation and restoration of degraded habitats and often involves multidisciplinary activities. Jen and her students are actively working to develop effective management strategies for coral reef communities around the world.
Dr. Jennifer Smith Curriculum vitae

Dr. Jennifer Smith Google Scholar Page and Research Gate



Postdoctoral Scholar: Dr. Emily Kelly

Emily Kelly

Emily Kelly is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the lab.  Emily earned her PhD at Scripps in 2015 also under the guidance of Dr. Smith.  Emily’s research is conducted both on tropical coral reefs and in temperate kelp forests.  Her PhD research focused on determining the effects of local pollution and overfishing of reef fish on coral reef communities in the Hawaiian Islands.  Emily is working with state and federal agencies in the newly established herbivore fisheries management area on Maui where she hopes to determine whether herbivore protection may allow for an increase in the abundance of herbivores over time and thus help to reverse the transition from coral to fleshy algal dominance on these reefs.  She is also tracking the impacts of the 2015/16 El Niño on Maui’s reefs.  In kelp forests, Emily works on understanding the dynamics of understory algal communities, particularly in light of ocean acidification, global warming, El Niño events, and invasion of non-native algal species.

Selected Publications:

Scavia D., Kelly ELA., Hagy III JD., (2006), A Simple Model for Forecasting the Effects of Nitrogen Loads on Chesapeake Bay Hypoxia, Estuaries and Coasts, v29, no.4, p674-684. [pdf]

Williams, ID, DJ White, RT Sparks, KC Lino, JP Zamzow, ELA Kelly, HL Ramey (2016) Responses of Herbivorous Fishes and Benthos to 6 Years of Protection at the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area, Maui. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0159100. dos: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159100

Kelly, ELA, Y Eynaud, SM Clements, M Gleason, RT Sparks, ID Williams, JE Smith (2016).  Investigating functional redundancy versus complementarity in Hawaiian herbivorous coral reef fishes.  Oecologia 182 (4). [pdf


Visiting Postdoctoral Scholar: Dr. Ryota Nakajima

Ryota Nakajima

Ryota Nakajima is a visiting scientist with interests in coral reef and deep sea ecology. Ryota is originally from Japan, and graduated from Soka University (Tokyo, Japan) in 2004 with a B.S. in Bioengineering. In 2006 he completed his Master’s Thesis and in 2009 he received his Ph.D., also from Soka University, where he specialized in coral reef zooplankton ecology in Malaysia. Ryota worked for Soka University as teaching staff from 2009-2012. Then he moved to JAMSTEC, the deep-sea research institution in Japan, as a postdoc researcher aiming to evaluate the present status and future perspectives of deep-sea biodiversity around Japan. Ryota started his work in the Smith Lab in 2016 as a visiting scientist, supported by the Japanese government. His current research interests include the role of coral mucus in the reef ecosystems.

Click here to check out his homepage and published papers!




PhD Student: Abby Cannon

Abigail Cannon

Abby Cannon received her B.S. in Environmental Systems: Ecology, Behavior and Evolution in 2009 from University of California, San Diego. Abby started her PhD in the Smith lab in 2013.  Her research interests are related to the effects of overfishing on ecosystems such as coral reefs and seagrass beds. When not volunteering at Scripps Abby enjoys surfing, traveling, SCUBA diving, and baking cookies.

Click here to check out her blog! 



PhD Student: Mike Fox

Michael Fox

Mike is a PhD candidate interested in how the structure of benthic marine communities relates to overall ecosystem function. Originally from Boston, Mike moved to San Diego to complete his undergraduate degree and has been in California ever since. After graduating, he spent a year doing fieldwork in the Caribbean and Antarctic before pursuing his Mater’s research on giant kelp at Moss Landing Marine Labs. Mike has conducted extensive fieldwork in central California kelp forests and the Canadian subarctic but most of his work now takes place in the (much warmer) remote central Pacific. In the Smith lab, his PhD research combines field and laboratory studies to examine the influence of regional and island-scale oceanography on coral ecophysiology and benthic community structure. As a Nancy Foster Scholar with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Mike also works on water quality issues in the Hawaiian Islands in collaboration with researchers at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Program.

Check out Mike’s personal website:


Selected Publications:

Fox, M.D. 2013. Resource translocation drives δ13C fractionation during recover from disturbance in giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera. Journal of Phycology 49: 811-15. [pdf]

Foley, M.M., Martone, R.G., Fox, M.D., Kappel, C.V., Mease, L.A., Erickson, A.L., Halpern, B.S., Selkoe, K.A., Taylor, P., Scarborough, C. 2015. Using ecological thresholds to inform resource management: current options and future possibilities. Frontiers in Marine Science, 2:95. [pdf]

Fox, M.D. 2016. Biomass loss reduces growth and resource translocation in giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 562: 65-77. [pdf]  


PhD Student: Amanda Carter

Amanda Carter

Amanda graduated from UCSD in June of 2010 with a B.S. in Biology. As an undergraduate she began volunteering for Dr. Smith after taking her Coral Reef Ecosystems class her junior year. After completing her degree, Amanda started work towards her Masters degree in Dr. Smith’s lab where she focused on a corallimorph invasion underway at Palmyra Atoll. After defending her Masters in June of 2014, Amanda received the Environmental Protection Agency’s STAR Fellowship to continue her work as a Ph.D. student in Dr. Smith’s lab. Her plan is to study the role that human impacts and pollution play in leading to invasions and disease on coral reefs. In her spare time, Amanda enjoys running, teaching and practicing yoga, and SCUBA diving.



PhD Student: Adi Khen

Adi Khen

Adi graduated from UCSD in June 2014 with a B.S. in Environmental Systems and a minor in Spanish. She now studies the long-term effects of mass bleaching events on corals. She is interested in how coral reefs are responding to environmental stressors, and how this information can be used to monitor reef health and predict the composition of future reef communities. Adi loves to draw and has sketched every fish in the Red Sea, as well as many of her favorite photos by Jennifer Smith and other members of the lab.

Check out her blog!


PhD Student: Cailan Sugano

Cailan Sugano

Cailan graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2015 with a B.S. in Aquatic Biology. Throughout his undergraduate, he volunteered in the Hofmann lab and conducted laboratory CO2 manipulation experiments that examined the physiological effects of ocean acidification and warming on marine calcifiers. After graduating, Cailan had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork in the Channel Islands and Antarctica as the Hofmann lab manager/technician. Cailan’s current research in the Smith lab combines field and laboratory methods to understand how natural environmental variability modulates the response of marine calcifiers to ocean acidification.


BS/MS Student: Gideon Butler

Gideon Butler

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Gideon received his B.S. in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from UCSD in 2014. His M.S. research will revolve around the use of landscape scale photo-mosaics from the Northern Line Islands in the central Pacific. He will be examining how a gradient of human population density can impact coral population dynamics. Gideon’s passion is the study of biological systems and understanding how individual components affect the whole. In the future he would like to apply that systemic understanding towards improving conservation and management of reefs. When not working in the lab, Gideon enjoys diving, surfing, hiking and traveling.



BS/MS Student: Corinne Amir

Corinne Amir

Corinne is a first year Masters student in the Marine Biology BS/MS contiguous program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. While receiving her undergraduate degree in Environmental Systems at UCSD, Corinne became a volunteer in Dr. Stuart Sandin’s lab where her projects focused on digitizing and identifying corals within large-scale photomosaic images, as well as studying the invasion dynamics of a corallimorpharian, Rhodactis howesii at Palmyra Atoll. For her Masters degree, Corinne’s research interests have focused on the invasion of Rhodactis howesii and the feasibility and impacts of potential removal and mitigation strategies to stunt its expansion throughout Palmyra’s near pristine coral reefs. When not in the lab, Corinne enjoys diving, hiking, cooking, and salsa/bachata dancing.



Lab Manager & Staff Research Associate: Samantha Clements

Sam Clements

Sam graduated from UCSD in June 2012 with a B.S. in Biology emphasizing Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution and a minor in Studio Art. She completed her M.S. research in the Smith lab under the mentorship of Jennifer Smith in 2015, where she studied the roles of herbivorous fishes on coral reefs of Maui in order to better understand what can be done to help protect Hawaiian reefs from further degradation. In addition to her current role as the Smith Lab manager, Sam oversees the Scripps Ocean Acidity Real-time (SOAR) Monitoring Program. She also assists with a variety of projects as a coral reef benthic scientist identifying coral, algae, and other benthic invertebrates. In her spare time, Sam enjoys painting, yoga, and competitive sandcastling.

You can check out her blog here!

Selected Publications:

Kelly, ELA, Y Eynaud, SM Clements, M Gleason, RT Sparks, ID Williams, JE Smith (2016).  Investigating functional redundancy versus complementarity in Hawaiian herbivorous coral reef fishes.  Oecologia 182 (4). [pdf


Staff Research Associate : Niko Kaplanis

Niko Kaplanis

Niko is a staff research associate who has worked with the Smith Lab since 2012. As an undergraduate he directed a project monitoring the expanding distributions of two non-native invasive marine algae in San Diego County. Niko is currently directing the San Diego Rising Tides Project, utilizing novel digital imaging and geospatial tools to characterize the physical and ecological structure of local rocky intertidal ecosystems, and assess the potential impacts of sea level rise.  


Selected Publications:

Kaplanis, N., J. Harris, J.E. Smith (2016) Distribution patterns of the non-native seaweeds Sargassum horneri (Turner) C.Agardh and Undaria pinnatifida (Harvey) Suringar on the San Diego and Pacific coast of North America. Aquatic Invasions 11(2). [pdf




Ellis Juhlin

Ellis is an undergraduate student at UCSD currently pursuing a degree in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution.  She has always been interested in wildlife conservation and after taking Dr. Smith’s Coral Reef Environment course last spring she became especially intrigued by coral reefs and Dr Smith’s research.  After studying abroad in Australia conducting research in the rainforest, she is excited to be a part of the Smith lab gaining experience in marine research and contributing to the groundbreaking work of this lab.




  • Marelle Arndt
  • Jessica Glanz
  • Christina Jayne
  • Alexandra Reich
  • Spencer Breining-Aday
  • Mackenzie Brandt
  • Annika Vawter


Past Members

Postdoctoral Scholars

  • Dr. Nichole Price (2014)
    -Currently a Principal Investigator at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
  • Dr. Andi Haas (2013)
    -Currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at SDSU in Dr. Forest Rohwer’s lab

Ph.D. Students

  • Dr. Levi Lewis (2016)
    Currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory
  • Dr. Maggie Johnson (2016)
    Currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • Dr. Jill Harris (2015)
    Currently a Postdoctoral Scholar for World Wildlife Fund

Master’s Students

  • Molly Gleason, M.S. (2013)
    – Currently working at the Ciee Research Station in Bonaire
  • Susan Kram, M.S. (2013)
  • Clinton Edwards, M.S. (2013)
    – Currently a Ph.D. student at SIO with Dr. Stuart Sandin

Research Staff

  • Clinton Edwards – Research Associate (2016)
  • Susan Kram – Lab Manager & Research Associate (2016)
  • Tiffany Teng (2013)
  • Currie Dugas – Lab Manager (2011)
  • Jackie Tran – Research Assistant (2011)

Past Volunteers

  • Carolina Carpenter (2016)
  • Ellie Williams (2016)
  • Stephanie Lee (2016)
  • Nathalie Staiger (2016)
  • Aaron Keohane (2016 – MAS Student)
  • Amelia Scharp (2015)
  • Temur Imam (2015)
  • Macey Rafter (2015)
  • Mallory Morgan (2015 – MAS Student)
  • Lenell Sagastume (2014)
  • Jennifer Le (2014)
  • Bella Doohan (2014)
  • Garrett Stewart (2014)
  • Alex Neu (2014)
  • Laurence Romeo (2014 – MAS Student)
  • Carolyn Kim (2013)
  • Elena Perez (2013 – MAS Student)
  • Conner Holland (2013)
  • Erika D’Andrea (2013)
  • Eric Engel (2013)
  • Daniel Conley (2012)
  • Krista Catelani (2012)
  • Sarah Urata (2012)
  • Ashley Cunningham (2012)
  • Zoe Dagan (2012)
  • Daniel Coffee (2012)
  • Abigail Cannon (2012)
  • Jennifer Bone (2012)
  • Sierra Basegio (2011)
  • Portia Seautelle (2011)
  • Rachel Graham (2011)
  • Grace Koyama (2011)
  • Ellen Umeda (2011)
  • Rachel Levin (2011)
  • George Balchin (2011)
  • Kevin Moses (2011 – REU Student)
  • Karen Dunleavy (2011)
  • Avantika Sinha (2011)
  • Rebecca Soloway (2011)
  • Shino Ogawa (2010)
  • Javier Cuetos-Bueno (2011- MAS Student)