Kerry Whittaker – Marine Ecology

Dr. Kerry Whittaker

Dr. Kerry Whittaker

Ph.D. in Oceanography, Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island

Professor Whittaker’s research interests focus on the ecological, physical, and evolutionary processes that generate and maintain diversity in the ocean.  She focuses on the vast molecular and functional diversity of marine phytoplankton, particularly diatoms.  Using molecular approaches, her work explores global structure of and geneflow among phytoplankton populations over time.  Her work has taken her to sea in the Gulf of Alaska, Southern Ocean, Central Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico.  Professor Whittaker is particularly interested in the relative influence of dispersal and environmental selection on the evolution of marine phytoplankton, as single cells constantly drifting with the tides and currents. Marine phytoplankton play an important role in regulating Earth’s climate through the fixation of carbon, and as a vital step in the biological carbon pump.  By identifying those factors influencing phytoplankton population structure, diversity, and evolution, Professor Whittaker hopes to better understand their potential for adaptation in a rapidly changing ocean.

Professor Whittaker is also interested in intersections between ocean sciences, policy, communication, and STEM education. She is a recent Sea Grant marine policy alumna where she worked on NOAA’s endangered species listing team.  While at NOAA, she contributed to ESA listing decisions of such organisms as the African coelacanth (Laminaria chalumnae), Taiwanese pink dolphin (Sousa chinensis), and common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinis), among others. In addition to Bates, Professor Whittaker also the marine science faculty member at Coastal Studies for Girls (CSG), a place-based semester school in Maine focusing on marine science and leadership education for highschool girls.  Professor Whittaker is passionate about science education and the use of clear science communication to inform policy decisions and engage communities.

Selected Publications:

Whittaker, K.A., D.R. Rigannese, R.J. Olson, T.A. Rynearson. Molecular subdivision of the marine diatom Thalassiosira rotula in relation to geographic distribution, genome size, and physiology. 2012. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 12:209.

Whittaker, KA.  2014.  Endangered species act status review report for the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae.  NOAA.  Federal register proposed rule: 80FR11363.

Boyd P.W., T.A. Rynearson, E.A., Armstrong, F-X. Fu, K. Hayashi, Z. Hu, D.A. Hutchins , R.M. Kudela, E. Litchman, M. R. Mulholland, U. Passow, R.F. Strzepek, K.A. Whittaker, E. Yu and M.K. Thomas. 2013. Marine phytoplankton temperature versus growth responses from polar to tropical waters – outcome of a scientific community-wide study. PloS One. 8:5.