Welcome to the Marine Community & Behavioral Ecology Lab!

Dugong from behind

Contact information

Dr. Michael Heithaus
Executive Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society
Florida International University
3000 NE 151 St
North Miami, FL 33181
(305) 919-5234 voice
(305) 919-4030 fax
Mike Heithaus CV

Research in the Heithaus Lab

turtle juvenile

Research in my lab is united by the overarching theme of understanding how predator-prey interactions structure communities with a particular focus on the role of non-consumptive predator effects ("risk effects"). I am particularly interested in the role of upper trophic level marine predators in their communities and ecosystems, and how ongoing reductions in their populations are likely to impact marine communities though reduction in both direct predation on their prey and relaxation of risk effects. Recently, we have also begun investigating the importance of individual foraging specializations on mediating the eclogical impacts of predators, particularly their role in transporting nutrients across ecosystem boundaries. Also, we have initiated studies of the potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deepsea communities of the Gulf of Mexico, particularly large scavengers and upper trophic level predators, like sharks.

My studies sometimes involve developing theory and laboratory tests of theory, but most of the work in my lab uses a theoretical foundation to conduct field research. Since 1997, colleagues and I have been using the Shark Bay, Western Australia seagrass ecosystem as a model system for determining the ecological role of tiger sharks. Much of our work has focused on determining how trade-offs betwen energy gain and risk from tiger sharks influence the behavior of key species(dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles, cormorants) and how these effects of tiger sharks might be transmitted through the community as behaviorally-mediated indirect species interactions. More information on this project is available at the Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project website.

A second focus of research in my lab is on habitat use, movement decisions and trophic interactions of large-bodied consumers (American alligators, juvenile bull sharks, bottlenose dolphins) in the Florida Coastal Everglades. We also are investigating whether individual specialization in foraging and movement tactics might facilitate consumer-mediated transport of nutrients across ecosystem boundaries. This project is part of the Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) Long Term Ecological Research Project.

My lab endeavors to develop educational materials for K-12 audiences and engages in outreach programs at the local, national, and international levels. This includes providing field research opportunities for undergraduate students in Florida and Australia, giving talks at museums and schools, and developing lesson plans for use in classrooms across the country.

Mike and Grad student


All photographs copyrighted; Images may be used for educational purposes. For use in other forms contact Mike Heithaus