PLEASE NOTE: Dr. Kinlan has moved to the NOAA Biogeography Branch effective August 2010. This page is not kept current and is maintained as an archive of Dr. Kinlan's work at the UCSB Marine Science Institute from 2000-2010. For more information about his current research contact Dr. Kinlan using the information below or visit:

Brian P. Kinlan                                        

Quantitative, Theoretical and Statistical Ecology
Marine Ecology & Biogeography
Marine Resource Bio-Economics, Management, and Conservation

Marine Spatial Ecologist
Biogeography Branch
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 713-3028 x157
NOTE: This website is not an official U.S. government site and is in no way associated with any US government entity.

Ph.D., Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology,
University of California, Santa Barbara (2007)

B.S., Biology and Organismal Biology,
Yale University (1999)

Curriculum Vitae: pdf  /  interactive

Kinlan photo
I am a broadly trained population and community ecologist interested in processes that give rise to patterns in the distribution, abundance, diversity and dynamics of organisms.  I work at the interface between theory and data, combining statistical, mathematicalcomputational, and bio-informatic approaches to test hypotheses and build a predictive multi-scale understanding of ecological pattern and dynamics.

My research seeks to expand the predictive frontiers of population and community ecology, and to forge theoretical and empirical links between ecology and large-scale patterns of biogeography, biodiversity, ecosystem function, and evolution.  A synthetic, quantitative, predictive approach to ecology that integrates across scales without neglecting the important details of organismal biology, ecology, and physiology is fundamental to answering the pressing challenges of conservation, management, and sustainable use of ecological resources in a changing world.
NEW!  Dr. Kinlan has moved to the NOAA Biogeography Branch effective August 2010 [read more...]
NEW!  Post-glacial climate change in kelp forests [read more...]
NEW!  Upcoming talk at Western Society of Naturalists meeting in Seaside, CA Nov 12-15, 2009 [read more...]
NEW!  Upcoming talk at ASLO/AGU/TOS Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, OR Feb 22-26, 2010 [read more...]

Research Philosophy and Themes

      1. Integration across scales.  My work often considers broader space scales and longer time scales than traditionally addressed by ecological experiments. My interest in linking local and organismal processes to large scale patterns has been driven both by opportunities for new basic ecological understanding, and pressing applied questions that require ecology to meet the challenge of large-scale prediction: climate change, management, conservation, ecological economics. At large scales, traditional experimental designs are logistically difficult and ill-equipped to account for the effects of multiple correlated, dynamic, nonlinear processes interacting across disparate scales in space and time.  To test hypotheses and make predictions about distribution, abundance, and community structure at large scales, one must explicitly consider the spatial and temporal structure of variation in ecological variables, and the mechanistic origins of this spatiotemporal pattern. 


  theory_and_data     2. Theoretical, quantitative, and statistical  integration of theory and data. Theoretical and empirical ecologists can no longer afford to work in isolation or pay mere lip service to each other’s contributions.  Ecological observation and experimentation without a theoretical framework wastes resources and misses opportunities to build and test predictive theories.  Theory not directly motivated by patterns in nature is at best a curiosity, and at worst misleading and counter-productive.
     3. Ecological implications of coupling and feedback between biological and physical processes.    Biological and physical processes are intimately linked at every level of biological organization.  The recognition of this fact in molecular and cellular biology last century led to a revolution in predictive understanding.  A rigorous quantitative approach to ‘ecological biophysics’—the study of how organismal traits related to survival, growth, reproduction, and dispersal interact with the physical structure and dynamics of the environment to give rise to ecological pattern and dynamics—stands to foster a similar revolution in ecology. stommel

Research Questions
My research is organized around several sets of basic ecological questions:

1.    What are the causes, patterns, and consequences of variation in scales of demography and dispersal?  How does observed variation in life history traits influence responses to environmental variability in natural communities? 

2.    How do demographic and environmental processes interact to drive the dynamic spatial structure of populations and communities, including genetic structure, spread and range boundaries?

3.    How do the spatial and temporal dynamics of foundation species (or 'ecosystem engineers') influence communities and ecosystems? 

4.    What are the relative roles of biological and physical processes in shaping the trophic structure and dynamics of ecosystems at regional to global scales? 

These central ecological questions lead naturally to applied questions such as:

1.     How will populations and communities respond to climate change?

2.    How do spatial and temporal scales of resource use, management, and conservation interact with natural scales of populations, communities, and ecosystems?

3.    Can life history traits guide the design and assessment of conservation, management, and sustainable harvest strategies?

4.    How does spatial and temporal variability in the environment influence management, conservation, and economics of coupled human natural systems?

Study System: Marine Environments

  The marine environment is an ideal study system in which to ask these questions.  Coastal zones are a nexus of biological productivity, strong bio-physical coupling, and human populations and economies.  Benthic marine organisms are easily studied and manipulated as adults but variation in the larval dispersal phase means the spatial scales of population dynamics vary over many orders of magnitude. Oceanographic processes that deliver larvae, food, and disturbance to marine ecosystems confront organisms with variability at a wide range of time scales.  Geomorphological complexity interacts with oceanography to create a complex and dynamic spatial arena in which ecological processes unfold.  And importantly for any quantitative approach that merges theory and data, long-term, large scale ecological and environmental observations are widely available from marine stations, oceanographic cruises, and satellites.

I have worked with intertidal and subtidal rocky and soft-bottom benthic communities in temperate and tropical regions throughout the world.   Regardless of the system, the orientation of my research around ecological questions leads to results broadly relevant to ecology.  The marine aspect of my work permits explicit comparisons of marine and terrestrial systems that have led to useful ecological insights on topics ranging from dispersal (Kinlan & Gaines 2003), invasive species population growth and spread (Thornber et al. 2004; Kinlan et al. 2005), and geographic ranges (Kinlan & Hastings 2005), to post-glacial climate change (Kinlan et al. 2005; Graham, Kinlan & Grosberg 2009).


Current Basic Research Projects
Focal research projects:
  • Spatiotemporal dynamics of Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests in California - forecasting the dynamics of an ecosystem engineer
  • Larval connectivity matrices across species' ranges from natural tag-recapture data (recent talk)
  • Using coastal topography to predict the spatial structure of marine populations, communities, and ecosystems

Other projects:
  • Simulating stochastic connectivity in turbulent environments
  • Statistical methods for cross-scale integration of remote sensing and ecological data
  • Genetic structure in non-equilibrium populations with complex patterns of connectivity
  • Spatial structure and dynamics of upwelling cells along coastlines
  • Global deep-water kelp forest distribution (led to discovery of deep water tropical kelp forests in the Galapagos Islands in 2007)
  • Global patterns of kelp deforestation and consumer-resource dynamics
  • Assessing kelp forest biomass and productivity from space

Current Applied Research Projects

  • Connecting life history and economics of fisheries –  developing a general trait-based framework to predict the increase in value from bioeconomic optimization of fishery management.  [read more...]
  • Historical ecology of exploited species – applying hierarchical Bayesian models to estimate changes in the size-structured population dynamics of California spiny lobsters (Panulirus interruptus) over the past century, and to examine cascading ecosystem effects of long-term fishing on kelp forests via altered trophic dynamics. [abstract] [presentation]
  • Forecasting responses of kelp forest ecosystems to El Nino-Southern Oscillation events [presentation]
  • Detecting effects of Marine Protected Areas – effects of protection from fishing on kelp forest habitats from short time series with high environmental noise. [handout] /  [presentation]
  • Bioeconomics of rights-based fisheries reform in the Gulf of California, Mexico [white paper]

last update: 10/26/2011 BUT NOT KEPT CURRENT