Dr. Kenneth L. Heck, Jr.

Dr. Kenneth L. Heck, Jr.

University Programs Chair, Senior Marine Scientist III

Professor, University of South Alabama

Bio

I am a marine ecologist whose research has focused on plant-animal interactions in coastal waters, with an emphasis on seagrass-dominated systems. I have worked primarily on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but have also studied seagrass meadows in Central America, as well as in Europe and Western Australia. Recently, I have also been collaborating with several close colleagues in efforts to restore northern Gulf oyster reefs and seagrass meadows.

My academic training began at the University of West Florida where I received a B. S. in Biology. After a stint in the U.S. Army, I subsequently received an M.S. with Skip Livingston at Florida State University (FSU), and then continued on there to do a PhD with Dan Simberloff. Upon leaving FSU I became an Assistant Curator at the Estuarine Research Laboratory of the Academy of Natural Science in Benedict, Maryland. Four years later I became an Associate Curator and Director of the Patrick Center for Environmental Research at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In 1986 I accepted positions as Senior Scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) and Associate (and later Full) Professor at the University of South Alabama (USA).

During my time at Dauphin Island I have served as Research Director, Chief Scientist, Chair of University Programs, Associate Director of the Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies and Director of the Shelby Center for Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management. Currently, I am again serving as Chair of University Programs at DISL and am a tenured Professor in the Marine Sciences Department at USA. During my years at DISL I have had the good fortune to collaborate with exceptional faculty colleagues, extremely productive post-doctoral scholars and technicians, and an outstanding group of graduate students. I have also mentored more than 50 undergraduate interns who, along with my graduate students, have helped maintain my undiminished enthusiasm for coastal and estuarine science.

During my career I have edited two volumes of scholarly works, co-edited a special issue of the journal Estuaries and published more than 170 peer-reviewed articles. I have held editorial positions at the journals Systematic Zoology, Estuaries and Coasts, and am presently editor of Gulf of Mexico Science and continue as a long-standing Contributing Editor for Marine Ecology Progress Series. I regularly serve on advisory and review panels for state and federal agencies. Recently, I have served on the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, on EPA and NOAA panels concerning the establishment of nutrient criteria in Florida waters and the effects of sea level rise on the northern Gulf of Mexico, and on an SAV review panel for the Chesapeake Bay. For the past several years, I served as a consultant to NOAA on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on Gulf of Mexico seagrass meadows, and served on a National Research Council panel charged with developing monitoring and evaluations protocols for on-going restoration activities in the Gulf of Mexico. I also currently serve as Past-President of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF), a scientific organization of some 1,100 marine and estuarine scientists that publishes the journal Estuaries and Coasts and sponsors a biennial conference.

Download Dr. Ken Heck's CV here.

Research Interest

In my lab we emphasize a team approach to problem solving, and use experimentation as the primary means of answering marine ecological questions. Our ultimate goal is to understand how physico-chemical and biological factors interact to influence the structure and function of our most productive coastal ecosystems. Much of this work is done at the population and community level, but we also collaborate with colleagues who work at the ecosystem level of organization. We carry out both basic and applied research, and currently funded projects include studies of the role of herbivores as they influence energy flow and habitat value in seagrass meadows; work designed to improve methods of restoring the functionality of seagrass meadows and oyster reefs; and long-term assessments of the effects of the "tropicalization" of the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is occurring as tropical fauna (such as manatees, green turtles), and habitat formers (such as mangroves and corals) become established and increasingly common along our coast. 

Projects

Publications

Who We Are

The Marine Ecology Lab under Dr. Ken Heck employs a team approach to problem solving, emphasizing field experimentation as the primary means of attacking ecological problems. Our goal is to understand how physio-chemical and biological factors such as competition and predation influence the structure and function of nearshore marine ecosystems. While our emphasis is on population and community ecology, we also work at the interface of community and ecosystems ecology. We do both basic and applied research, and our efforts range from investigating the role of larval abundance as it influences the adult population size of blue crabs, to evaluating the cascading trophic effects of overharvesting fish predators from coastal systems. While most of our efforts are focused on studying the plants and animals inhabiting seagrass meadows and on the interactions between seagrass meadows and adjacent habitats (coral reefs, marsh, mangroves), we can also be found working in coral and oyster reef habitats.The Marine Ecology Lab under Dr. Ken Heck employs a team approach to problem solving, emphasizing field experimentation as the primary means of attacking ecological problems. Our goal is to understand how physio-chemical and biological factors such as competition and predation influence the structure and function of nearshore marine ecosystems. While our emphasis is on population and community ecology, we also work at the interface of community and ecosystems ecology. We do both basic and applied research, and our efforts range from investigating the role of larval abundance as it influences the adult population size of blue crabs, to evaluating the cascading trophic effects of overharvesting fish predators from coastal systems. While most of our efforts are focused on studying the plants and animals inhabiting seagrass meadows and on the interactions between seagrass meadows and adjacent habitats (coral reefs, marsh, mangroves), we can also be found working in coral and oyster reef habitats.

PI

Kenneth L. Heck, Jr.

Post Doc

Brittany Blomberg, PhD

Graduate Students

Alexandra Rodriguez
Spring 2016 - Present
Thesis Title: Green sea turtle grazing pressure in a temperate Florida bay

Research Staff

Dorothy “Dottie” Byron, MS - Lab Manager
Sharon “Cissie” Havard - Senior Technician 

Former Students

Mary Kennedy, MS: 2014 - 2016
Impacts of wintering redhead ducks on seagrasses of the northern Gulf of Mexico

Anthony Marshak, PhD:  2008 - 2016
Ecological impacts of climate-related ichthyofaunal shifts upon the northern Gulf of Mexico red snapper population and reef fish community

Whitney Scheffel, MS: 2012 - 2015
Black mangrove expansion into salt marshes of the northern Gulf of Mexico: Will climate result in significant ecosystem level changes?

Rebecca Gericke, MS: 2008-2011

Effects of climate-driven range expansions of tropical snapper species (lutjanus spp.) on the dominant native species (pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides)

Joseph Myers, MS: 2008-2011

Effects of species-specific grazing and nutrient addition on growth and production of the shoalgrass Halodule wrightii and its epiphytes

Karen Fisher, MS: 2008-2011

Evaluating nursery habitat utilization by juvenile gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus) in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Lesley Baggett, PhD: 2003-2010

The effects of nutrient enrichment on the seagrass Thalassia testudinum and the stoichiometry, fitness, fecundity, and feeding preference of its associated epiphyte grazers in Florida Bay, Florida

Robert Gutierrez, MS: 2006- 2009

The effects of increased nutrients via bird guano on seagrass macroinfaunal communities

Kelly McKay Darnell, MS: 2005-2008

The effects of prior grazing by the variegated sea urchin and the bucktooth parrotfish on the palatability of turtlegrass

Carly Steeves Canion, MS: 2005 - 2007

The effect of habitat complexity on predation rate: Re-evaluating the current paradigm in seagrass beds

Matthew Johnson, PhD: 2006

The Role of Habitat Fragmentation on the Structure and Function of Seagrass Ecosystems in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Dale Booth, MS: 2006

The impacts of the American Oyster (Crassostrea virginia) on growth and recruitment of Halodule wrightii

Bradley Furman, MS: 2006

Effects of nutrient enrichment and herbivore density on macroalgal diversity and abundance in a tropical reef ecosystem using Diadema antillarum as the model herbivore

K. Lindsey Kramer, MS: 2005

Have marine reserves made a difference?  Fish community structure, grazing intensity and coral recruitment on protected patch reefs

Margene "Meg" Goecker, MS: 2003

The effects of nitrogen content of turtlegrass, Thalassia testudinum, on rates of herbivory by the bucktooth parrotfish, Sparisoma radians

Deborah Kilbane, MS: 2003

Intra-year class cannibalism in early juvenile blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus)

Stacy Harter, MS: 2002

The effects of predation risk on growth rates of juvenile pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides) in Big Lagoon, Florida

Leslie Gallagher, MS: 2001

An evaluation of potential artifacts associated with caging experiments

Jason Stutes, MS: 2000

The relative importance of vertebrate and invertebrate grazing on epiphytes in a seagrass bed in the Northern Gulf of Mexico: an experimental assessment

Kristen Walker, MS: 1998

Bradley Peterson, PhD: 1998

Interactions between semi-infaunal suspension feeding bivalves (Modiolus americanus) and seagrass assemblages (Thalassia testudinum)

Patricia Spitzer, MS: 1998

The effects of vegetations density on the relative growth rates and foraging behavior of pinfish,Lagodon rhomboides (L.), in Big Lagoon, Florida

Katherine Canter, MS: 1998

Foraging effects of gulf oyster toadfish, Opsanus beta, on juvenile xanthid and portunid crabs during altered habitat complexity and light

Paul Bologna, PhD: 1997

The effects of seagrass habitat architecture on associated fauna

Patric Harper, MS: 1994

Seagrass community regulation: effects of manipulating top predators and dominant macrograzers

Laurie Sullivan, MS: 1994

Ecological studies of the mangrove gastropod Littoraria angulifera (littorinidae): distribution, predation, and algal interactions

Susan Sklenar, MS: 1994

Interactions between sea urchin grazers (Lytechinus variegatus and Arbacia punctulata) and mussels (Modiolus americanus): a mutualistic relationship?

Barbara Randall Gibbs, MS: 1994

Experiments on shelter availability and interactions on juvenile stone crabs, Menippe adina

David Nadeau, MS: 1991

Relative growth rates of predatory fishes in vegetated and unvegetated habitats: field experiments with juvenile red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus

Past REU students

Joshua Hancock: 2012 - Influence of bird presence on relative predation rates of brown shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus, within seagrass beds

Natasha Zarnstroff: 2011 - Ecological effects of restoring seagrass to coastal northern Gulf of Mexico waters

Helen Croce: 2010 - The effect of nutrient enrichment on grazer interactions with Halodule wrightii.

Lauren Grove: (REU) 2007 - The effects of nutrient enrichment on abundance growth fecundity and C:N Ratios of Consumers in Thalassia testudinum.

**Karen Fisher: 2006 - The effects of nutrient enrichment on growth, fecundity and stoichiometry of epiphyte grazers in Thalassia testudinum beds.

Erin Morgan: 2005 - Effects of live-bait shrimp trawling on widgeongrass (Ruppia maritima) beds and bycatch in Grand Bay, National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Abigail Poray:  2003 - The effects of grazing on nitrogen content as an induced defense in turtlegrass, Thalassia testudinum

Lisa Zarubick: 2002 - The effects of nitrogen concentration on herbivory of turtlegrass, Thalassia testudiunum, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Heather Bracken:   2001- Seagrass Herbivory: The effects of predation risk and nutritional content in the Upper Florida Keys.

**Meg Goecker: 2000 - Seagrass Herbivory: The Effects of Predation Risk and Nutritional Content in the Upper Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Rachel Mason: 1999 - Effects of the snail Neritina reclivata on the level of epiphytic fouling of wild celery, Vallisneria americana, and its potential impact on growth.

Kelli Milleville: 1998 - The Effect of Predator Density and Refuge on the Rate of Cannibalism in Blue Crabs, Callinectus sapidus

Past Undergraduate Interns

**Alexandra Rodriguez: Summer - Fall 2015

Brittany Troast: Summer - Fall 2015

Tracey Vlasak: Fall 2015

Olivia Caretti: Summer 2014 - Spring 2015

Madelyn Roycroft: Fall 2014 - Spring 2015

Emily Anderson: Fall 2014

Heidi Herlevi: Fall 2013

Maria Akopyan: Summer - Fall 2013

Micheal Arvin: Summer 2013

**Mary “Maddie” Kennedy: Fall 2012  - Fall 2013

Paul Dixson: Fall 2012

Samantha Swanton: Summer 2012

Ashley Whitt: Fall 2011 - Summer 2012

Kate Walsh: Fall 2011 - Fall 2012

Heather McNair: Summer - Fall 2011

Carrie Harris: Summer 2011

Courtney Chupka: Summer 2011

Nick Tolopka: Spring - Summer 2011

**Whitney Scheffel: Fall 2010 - Summer 2011

Ileana Freytes: Fall 2010

Megan Sabal: Summer 2010 - Summer 2011

Caitlin Bovery: Summer - Fall 2010

Robert Crimian: Summer 2010

Nicole Waite: Summer 2009 - Spring 2010

Michelle Beumer: Summer - Fall 2009

Carrie Robbins: Fall 2009

Ariel Leon: Summer 2009

John Tiggelaar: Fall 2008

Angela Vincent: Fall 2008

Michelle Brodeur: Summer 2008

Carl Wepking: Summer 2008

**Rebecca Gericke: Fall 2007

Cailtin Hamer: Fall 2007

**Joe Myers: Summer 2007

Sara Tappan: Summer 2007

Camilla Gustafsson: Fall 2006

Emily Miller: Fall 2006

Savannah Williams: Fall 2006

Jennifer Blaine: Summer 2006

Erika Millstien: Summer 2006

Dan Begert: Fall 2005

Christina Harris: Fall 2005

Meaghean Finnegan: Summer 2005

Megan Kent: Summer 2005

**Randi Shiplett: Fall 2004 - Spring 2005

Jenn Koeppel: Summer 2004

Karlina Merkens: Summer 2004                                        

Rachel Adams: Fall 2003

Kimberly Young: Fall 2003

**Carly Steeves: Summer 2003

Jessica Ebie: Summer 2003

**Brad Furman:  Fall 2002

Shawn McCall:  Fall 2002

**Dale Booth: Summer - Fall 2002

Rebecca Kordas: Summer 2002

Amy Willman:  Fall 2001

Amanda Spivak: Fall 2001

**K. Lindsey Kramer:  Summer 2001

Eric Crandall: Fall 2000

Rachel Eichenlaub: Fall 2000

*Deborah Kilbane: Summer 2000

Marissa Axell: Summer 2000

Nicole McMullen: Summer 2000

Dottie Byron: Fall 1999

Heidie Hornstra: Fall 1999

Meredith Ferdie: Summer 1999

Adrienne Jones: Summer 1999

Kevin Yates: Summer 1999

**Indicates undergraduates that have entered the DISL graduate program

Past Post Docs

Jennifer Hill: 2011 - 2015

Patricia Prado: 2008-2009

Joel Fodrie: 2006- 2008

Per Moksnes: 2001-2002 (Sweden)

Cyndi Moncreif: 1994

Mike Judge: 1992-1993

John Valentine: 1989-1991

Loren "Bubba" Coen: 1988-1989

Past Fullbright Scholars

Silvia Ibarra: 2001 (CICESE, Ensenada, Mexico)

Johanna Matilla: 1995-1997 (Abo Akademie, Turku, Finland)

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