Welcome to the Marine Community & Behavioral Ecology Lab!

Shark Bay, Australia

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

Dr. Mike Heithaus

I grew up in Mt. Vernon, OH and attended Oberlin College from 1991-1995 where I was a member of the swim team and played water polo. I completed my PhD under Larry Dill at Simon Fraser University where I initiated the research that grew into the Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project and developed many of my interests in the role of non-consumptive predator effects on marine community dynamics. From 2001-2003 I was a postdoctoral scientist and then staff scientist in the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory (Sarasota, FL). For part of that time I was on loan to National Geographic as a Research Fellow in the Remote Imaging Program where I conducted research using their "Crittercam" systems and hosted a 13-part series on the National Geographic Channel. I came to FIU in the Fall of 2003 as part of the Marine Biology Program. In 2008, I became the director of the Marine Sciences Program and received tenure in the Department of Biological Sciences. In my spare time I spend time with my wife and two boys and play Australian Rules Football for the Ft. Lauderdale Fighting Squids.



Dr. Jeremy Kiszka

My research interests focus on marine top predator ecology, including habitat and resource use and community ecology. I am particularly interested in the effect of environmental parameters on habitat and resource selection, as well as the influence of these parameters on grouping strategies. Recently, I have been mostly working on tropical dolphin behavior and ecology, but also on their interactions with human activities (particularly fisheries in the western Indian and South Pacific Oceans). As predation risk is a significant factor driving tropical dolphin habitat use and grouping behavior, I started investigating the ecology and ecological roles of sharks in various ecosystems, particularly coral reefs. At FIU I am working on a number of taxa and questions, including the non-consumptive (risk) effects of predators on mesopredators.


Dr. Jordy Thomson

My research interests are relatively broad and lie a the intersection of behavior, ecology and conservation in marine systems. I have been working on marine turtles with the Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project since 2005. My Ph.D. work (Simon Fraser University) focused on quantifying spatioteporal variation in the dive-surfacing behavior of gren and loggerhead turtles in Shark Bay and examining its implications for detection probabilities during transect-based population surveys. My postdoctoral research examines the effects of tiger shark predation risk on turtle behavior and uses stable isotope analysis and video data logging technology to study turtle foraging ecology. Recently, I have also begun investigations of a recent dieback of seagrasses in Shark Bay.



Graduate Students

Adam Rosenblatt, PhD Candidate

I am interested in linking an understanding of behavioral decisions to conservation and management strategies. My current research focuses on the Florida Everglades, which is a heavily managed ecosystem that is in the process of being restored. I am studying how movement and habitat use patterns and trophicinteractions of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), are influenced by both biotic factors and environmental variables like salinity and patterns of freshwater flow. Understanding how alligators respond to current variation in biotic and abiotic conditions will aid in Everglades management and conserving alligator populations. In addition, my work will test the efficacy of two tracking methods (passive acoustic telemetry and GPS telemetry) for studying habitat use of crocodilians and assess turnover rates of stable isotopic signatures in various alligator tissues.


Phil Matich, PhD Candidate

My research interests focus on the roles animals play within their ecosystems and how changes in biotic and abiotic factors can influence the spatiotemporal pattern of predator effects in ecosystems. My current research focuses on the habitat use and foraging ecology of juvenile bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) in the Shark River Slouth (Florida Coastal Everglades) using acoustic telementry, stable isotope analysis, and predator and prey sampling. The main objective of this project is to understand the factors responsible for driving shark foraging and movement decisions and how spatial and temporal variation in these factors my affect the role of bull sharks in the ecosystem. Additionally, I am hoping to elucidate the usefulness of comparing and contrasting isotopic signatures from multiple tissues for elucidating feeding patterns of sharks.


Cindy Bessey, PhD Candidate

My broad research interests are in the field of animal behavior and how animals modify their behaviors in changing conditions to meet their life history requirements. Specifically, I am interested in how lower trophic level organisms are impacted through trophic cascades. My current research will focus on habitat use of the facultative herbivorous fish Pelates sexlineatus (Six-Lined Trumpeter) in the seagrass beds of Shark Bay, Australia. I will investigate what conditions occur that promote or discourage herbivory in these fish. I would like to investigate which seagrasses are preferred, as well as the changes in intensity of grazing in both the presence and absence of megagrazers and piscivores. I will also investigate the variation in abundance of these fish in structurally diverse seagrass habitats, and the structural changes to the seagrass bed that result from the grazing behavior of P. sexlineatus.



Diana Churchill, PhD Candidate

My current research is focused on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Spill on the trophic structure of deep-sea communities in the Gulf of Mexico. I am studying both upper trophic level predators (sharks) and benthic scavengers (crabs, isopods, hagfish) as sentinels of food web changes. I will use both stable isotope and gut contents analysis to assess both spatial and temporal variation in trophic structure. I hope to not only help elucidate the community structure of sharks and scavengers in deewater regions of the Gulf of Mexico, but how these shark communities and food webs in general have changed, and will continue to change, as a result of such a significant ecological disaster.






Rob Nowicki, PhD Candidate

My research interests are focused on the interface of behavioral and community ecology. Specifically, I am interested in behavioral shifts that consumers make in response to predation risk, and how these behavioral shifts interact with other factors to shape ecosystems. These interactions are particularly important to understand as large bodied marine predators continue to decline worldwide. For my dissertation work, I intend to mimic both tiger shark loss and disturbance regimes in seagrass beds in order to investigate the importance of tiger sharks in facilitating ecosystem resilience. This work will make use of a large-scale seagrass dieback (likely due to temperatue stress) that occurred in 2012.








Elizabeth Whitman, PhD Candidate

Elizabeth joined the lab in the Fall of 2012. She will be working on the behavior and ecology of sea turtles.








Staff Scientist

Kirk Gastrich

My past work includes studies of muscle biochemistry, physiology, and swim ming performance of fishes. Currently, I am involved in multiple research projects in Shark Bay. Most of my work has focused on ensuring that long-term datasets, including those based on transects and shark fishing, continue to be collected and maintaining and monitoring seagrass exclosure experiments. I also am heavily involved in seagrass transplant experiments and studies of fish communities. In Florida, I have worked with Adam and Phil on their studies in the Everglades and now am helping to lead our studies on deepsea communities in the Gulf of Mexico.