Marine Resource Assessment


Marine Resource Assessment

The College of Marine Science offers an interdisciplinary concentration in Marine Resource Assessment (MRA) as part of its M.S. and Ph.D. programs. This concentration provides training in the emerging field of fisheries science and ecosystem-based management. Its mission is to train a new generation of scientists that can effectively address issues concerning the sustainability of the world’s living natural resources.

Students with concentrations in MRA will be expected to engage in thesis or dissertation topics that deal directly with interactions between living resources and anthropogenic- or climate-driven factors, including subjects such as bio-physical interactions, changing predator-prey relationships, over fishing, and identification of essential linkages that determine habitat quality. It is expected that students who select the MRA concentration will interact strongly with one or more of the state and federal resource-management agencies that are located near the College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg, including the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office, and the Florida Integrated Science Center of the US Geological Survey. These agencies, all within one mile from the campus, represent a collective wealth of knowledge, expertise, and practical experience and will serve as vital assets to the new concentration and its students.
USF CMS Marine Resource Assessment Student Enrollment
The concentration in MRA is designed to produce resource assessment scientists who can introduce relevant ecosystem-level variables into the traditional, single-species assessment process, complementing and enhancing the development of the science-based management policies that protect living marine resources. The MRA curriculum will prepare students for employment in academia, the environmental consulting industry, and government. In the US, government employment opportunities exist in six National Marine Fisheries Service Science Centers, on five regional Fishery Management Councils, on two interstate Marine Fisheries Commissions, and at a large number of state marine fisheries management agencies.

Enrollment in the MRA Program as increased steadily since it was developed in 2011.

  • Statistics: 18 females, 9 males

Meet the MRA Faculty

Ernst Peebles – Marine Resource Assessment

Ernst Peebles
Director of MRA Program

Research: Coastal resource and habitat quality; predator/prey interaction; isotope chemistry.

Most students in Dr. Peebles lab are in the Marine Resource Assessment program and are collectively pursuing a diversity of methods that apply to living resource biology and management. The common thread is coastal fish and shellfish habitat use and quality. His team’s research focus has been spatio-temporal interactions between coastal fishes and their prey, particularly as these are affected by freshwater flows to the coast and other physical processes. Personnel from his lab have quantified estuarine ichthyoplankton and invertebrate zooplankton responses to freshwater flows from more than 18 watersheds along Florida’s west coast; these results have been used to manage environmental flows. The same type of plankton data is being used to develop community-level metrics for establishing the extent of eutrophication in coastal water bodies. We also use stable isotopes to contrast fish isotopic signatures with geographic background maps (isoscapes), which allows us to identify site fidelities and movements that determine geographic habitat connectivity. Recently, we added DNA barcoding and hydrodynamic models to our effort to characterize habitat connectivity during egg and larval stages. In a related effort, we have been using otolith microchemistry (LA-ICP-MS) to connect adult fish to the geographic regions they used as nursery habitat and to detect exposure of individual fish to stressful events such as oil spills.

Ernst Peebles Faculty Page

Steven Murawski – Marine Resource Assessment
Steven Murawski
Marine Resource Assessment

Research: Population dynamics of exploited marine species; impacts of fishing and other anthropogenic stresses on marine ecosystems; ecosystem modeling and analysis.

Dr. Murawski is a fisheries biologist and marine ecologist involved in understanding the impacts of human activities on the sustainability of ocean ecosystems. He has developed approaches for understanding the impacts of fishing on marine fish complexes exploited in mixed-species aggregations. Additionally, his work on impacts of marine protected areas and other management options has formed the scientific basis for regulation. Such assessments can help inform investments to rebuild the Gulf of Mexico from effects of the oil spill, loss of juvenile nursery areas, nutrient enrichment, overfishing and other factors. 

Steve Murawski Faculty Page

Cam Ainsworth – Marine Resource Assessment
Cam Ainsworth
Marine Resource Assessment

Research: Impacts of climate change on marine resources; ecosystem modeling from oil spill effects; fisheries management.

Dr. Ainsworth studies the effects of changing water temperatures, ocean acidification, and other environmental factors. His research suggests that the effects of climate change are clearly noticeable in terms of biodiversity loss, loss of coral reefs, and increased extinction risk in the most vulnerable species. One of his primary foci since 2011 has been to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil on marine life. His study works to tease apart the numerous effects of the oil in the ecosystem including effects on plankton, increases in fish diseases, and disrupted migration patterns for mammals and fish. Dr. Ainsworth hopes to understand how scientists can manage ecosystems to protect biodiversity by designating marine protected areas: spatial fishery closures meant to protect essential marine habitats and breeding populations of species. In addition to marine protected areas, he looks at other options for fisheries management such as the use of quotas and harvest control rules in reducing overexploitation of fish stocks.

Cameron Ainsworth Faculty Page

Chris Stallings – Marine Resource Assessment
Chris Stallings
Marine Resource Assessment

Research: Ecology; Marine conservation and management efforts.

Research in Dr. Stallings’ lab focuses on basic concepts in ecology, yet includes a strong applied component to inform marine conservation and management efforts. Overarching efforts seek to estimate the abundance of marine organisms and examine the ecological processes that drive population and community dynamics. His lab’s questions are often framed to evaluate the effects of human activities, such as fishing and coastal development, on ecological systems. Therefore, much of the research is field-intensive and involves both experimental and large-scale observational approaches. However, the lab also incorporates an extensive laboratory component through mesocosm experiments and use of stable isotope analysis. Moreover, the Stallings Lab explores large datasets, using multivariate statistics and GIS to reveal broad-scale ecological patterns that may be further explored through focused regional field studies.

Chris Stallings Faculty Page


Population Dynamics
This course provides instruction in population modeling as applied to fishery resources. Population dynamics synthesizes information on life history, fishery monitoring and resource surveys using mathematical models. Results are used to determine stock size and fishery sustainability and evaluate consequences of alternative fishery management actions.

Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems
 Trophic Level Marine Resource Assessment
Knowledge of physical-biological processes in the ocean is essential to (1) achieve a fundamental understanding of marine ecosystems dynamics and ecosystem function, (2) improve our ability to predict how ecosystems will respond to anthropogenic perturbations and climate variability, and (3) improve our ability to manage and conserve marine resources.

Aquarium Laboratory

Aquarium LaboratoryThe objective of this course is to examine a broad range of topics related to understanding how bottom-up (physical processes) and top-down (predation) processes influence marine ecosystem dynamics.
Applied Multivariate Statistics
The focus of this course is hands-on analysis of large, high-dimensional marine ecological and environmental data sets using a suite of distribution-free methods. Students actively participate in employing techniques ideally suited for the analysis of real-world data, which are often non-normal, highly skewed, and zero-inflated. While many of the methods discussed are particularly relevant to the analysis of, say, species assemblages, microchemical signatures, or biotic/abiotic relationships, the concepts presented in this class should be applicable to a wide variety of disciplines.

Fish Biology
This course introduces students to the taxonomy, evolution, anatomy, sensory ecology, physiology, behavior, habitat use, reproduction, larval dynamics and ecology of fishes.


This course covers core concepts of statistical analysis of univariate data with examples drawn from biological and ecological datasets. Since the focus is on distribution-free methods of correlation, ANOVA, and regression analysis, this class serves as an appropriate prerequisite for the College’s more advanced class in Applied Multivariate Statistics. My goal is to help students develop a solid foundation in designing experiments, applying appropriate methods, and interpreting their results.

Marine Aquaculture
Marine Aquaculture is a 3 credit on-line course that explores issues and technologies involved in farming animals and plants in the marine aquatic environment to produce seafood for human consumption and to enhance or restore declining wild fish, shellfish and plant stocks. An overview of marine species (fish, shrimp, oyster and seaweed), production systems (ponds, cages, tanks, recirculating aquaculture), and the interactions between aquaculture and the marine environment will be addressed. The course will consist of lectures, presentations and discussions of peer-reviewed literature, science-news discussions and a paper reviewing your favorite aquaculture species or system. Students in need of academic accommodations for a disability may consult with Students with Disabilities Services to arrange appropriate accommodations. Students are required to give reasonable notice prior to requesting an accommodation.

Ecosystem Modeling

Marine Resource Assessment students aboard The R/V Weatherbird I

This course will introduce students to the Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) suite of modelling tools. Students will develop a model, access the EwE wiki and, apply empirical formulae to generate input parameters, balance Ecopath and tune Ecosim model dynamics. Students will learn specialized routines such as the optimal policy search, network analysis, Ecotracer, Ecospace, production anomaly search, equilibrium analysis and Monte Carlo sensitivity analysis. Other topics include ecosystem modeling theory and examples from other modeling systems.

For More Information
Please contact the faculty above for information about our Marine Resource Assessment research or learn how to apply to our Master’s or PhD program.