Catherine M. Matassa
Post-doctoral Research Associate
I am broadly interested in the ways that the behavior of individuals can scale up to influence the structure and dynamics of ecological communities. Using laboratory and field experiments, my research examines how biotic and abiotic stress influence the behavior, fitness, and physiology of consumers and the indirect effects of these stressors on community structure and ecosystem function.
Currently, my research focuses on the “ecology of fear” or the ecological consequences of predators scaring their prey. On rocky shores in the Gulf of Maine, dogwhelks (Nucella lapillus) spend more time hiding in cracks and crevices and less time foraging on mussels (Mytilus edulis) and barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides) when they detect the presence of predatory green crabs (Carcinus maenas). As a result, green crabs, by scaring dogwhelks, have positive indirect effects on the abundance of mussels and barnacles (a trophic cascade). For intermediate consumers like N. lapillus, deciding when, where, or how much to forage depends on the consumer’s need to avoid starvation, but also on its need to avoid becoming food! My research shows that such foraging decisions and their cascading effects depend on a suite of physiological and environmental factors, each of which acts to shift the costs and benefits of foraging.
Dogwhelks (Nucella lapillus) in a crevice at low tide. New Harbor, Maine.
Matassa, C.M. 2010. Purple sea urchins Strongylocentrotus purpuratus reduce grazing rates in response to risk cues from the spiny lobster Panulirus interruptus. Marine Ecology Progress Series 400:283-288.