Charles Birkeland

Unit Leader Emeritus, Hawaii Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit

Coral reef ecology and management, marine community ecology






Research Interests

My research has been mainly on coral reef communities: 1) why some recover from damage by human activities and others do not; and 2) how coral reef resources should be managed. For the first topic, I’ve focused on the interactions of crustose coralline algae, coral recruitment and herbivorous fishes, and especially how these interactions are affected by overfishing and by nutrient input. For the second topic, I’ve focused on the biological characteristics and life histories of the targeted coral-reef species and on the nature of ecosystem processes of coral reefs. These aspects are both so different from those of other marine communities that the resources of coral reefs must be managed in a fundamentally different way.

Since I’ve come to Hawaii, I have started to examine whether Marine Protected Areas affect ecosystem processes such as coral recruitment and substratum binding and whether MPAs increase the fisheries yield beyond the MPA boundaries. The Hawaiian concept of ahupua’a, or management on the basis of watershed, is being examined in American Samoa and on Moloka’i. Two of my graduate students are investigating the means by which corals adjust to climate change by acclimatization or adaptation (physiological or genetic mechanisms), and how aspects of the physical environment facilitate these mechanisms. Another two graduate students are examining the role of an introduced species of grouper on the coral-reef communities of Hawaii and how the ecology of this grouper has changed in its new habitat. One of my students is determining whether Marine Protected Areas affect ecosystem processes such as grazing intensity, coral recruitment, bioerosion, and substratum binding and another is investigating the effects of sedimentation on the coral community and the associated microbial communities.

Selected Publications

2009 Birkeland, C. Important roles of natural history in ecology. Galaxea, Journal of Coral Reef Studies 11: 59-66

2009 Jayewardene, D., M.J. Donahue, and C. Birkeland. Effects of frequent fish predation on corals in Hawaii. Coral Reefs 28: 499-506

2008 Birkeland, C., P. Craig, D. Fenner, L. Smith, W.E. Keine, and B. Riegl. Geologic setting and ecological functioning of coral reefs in American Samoa. Pages 737 - 761 In B. Riegl and R.E. Dodge (eds.) Coral Reefs of the USA. Springer, NY. 803 p.