Catherine Pfister

Research Summary
My research in ecology has focused on the dynamics of species in marine systems and the role they play at ecosystems scales. Two recurring themes in my research are the implications of species interactions for community and ecosystem dynamics, and the contribution of climate change to species dynamics. My interests can be broadly grouped into four areas: (1) the interplay between species and productivity in coastal marine ecosystems, (2) the implications of ocean acidification in coastal marine ecosystems, (3) identifying the causes and consequences of variability in marine populations and (4) understanding the relative impacts of genetic and demographic factors to extinction risk. I train PhD students who are interested in testing ecological and evolutionary concepts and pursuing new discoveries in marine ecosystems. Students in my lab have used a diversity of methods in their work, including mathematical models, genetics and -omics, biogeochemistry, and microscopy. There is a diverse group of faculty across multiple departments whose work is related to the ecology of the oceans, and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole is our affiliate.
marine ecology, global change, ocean acidification, species interactions, microbial ecology
  • University of Washington, Seattle, PhD Zoology 07/1993
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, MS Marine Sciences 06/1987
  • University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, BS Biology 05/1984
Biosciences Graduate Program Association
Awards & Honors
  • 1993 - 1995 Miller Postdoctoral Fellow University of California at Berkeley
  • 2018 - Frances Straus Mentorship Award University of Chicago
  1. Bitter MC, Kapsenberg L, Gattuso JP, Pfister CA. Standing genetic variation fuels rapid adaptation to ocean acidification. Nat Commun. 2019 12 20; 10(1):5821. View in: PubMed

  2. Martiny JBH, Whiteson KL, Bohannan BJM, David LA, Hynson NA, McFall-Ngai M, Rawls JF, Schmidt TM, Abdo Z, Blaser MJ, Bordenstein S, Bréchot C, Bull CT, Dorrestein P, Eisen JA, Garcia-Pichel F, Gilbert J, Hofmockel KS, Holtz ML, Knight R, Mark Welch DB, McDonald D, Methé B, Mouncey NJ, Mueller NT, Pfister CA, Proctor L, Sachs JL. The emergence of microbiome centres. Nat Microbiol. 2020 Jan; 5(1):2-3. View in: PubMed

  3. Zou HX, Anastasio AE, Pfister CA. Early succession on slag compared to urban soil: A slower recovery. PLoS One. 2019; 14(12):e0224214. View in: PubMed

  4. Pfister CA, Altabet MA, Weigel BL. Kelp beds and their local effects on seawater chemistry, productivity, and microbial communities. Ecology. 2019 10; 100(10):e02798. View in: PubMed

  5. Weigel BL, Pfister CA. Successional Dynamics and Seascape-Level Patterns of Microbial Communities on the Canopy-Forming Kelps Nereocystis luetkeana and Macrocystis pyrifera. Front Microbiol. 2019; 10:346. View in: PubMed

  6. Hay ME, Duffy JE, Pfister CA, Fenical W. Chemical Defense Against Different Marine Herbivores: Are Amphipods Insect Equivalents? Ecology. 1987 Dec; 68(6):1567-1580. View in: PubMed

  7. McCoy SJ, Kamenos NA, Chung P, Wootton TJ, Pfister CA. A mineralogical record of ocean change: Decadal and centennial patterns in the California mussel. Glob Chang Biol. 2018 06; 24(6):2554-2562. View in: PubMed

  8. Pfister CA, Betcher SP. Climate drivers and animal host use determine kelp performance over decadal scales in the kelp Pleurophycus gardneri (Laminariales, Phaeophyceae). J Phycol. 2018 02; 54(1):1-11. View in: PubMed

  9. Pfister CA, Hay ME. Associational plant refuges: convergent patterns in marine and terrestrial communities result from differing mechanisms. Oecologia. 1988 Oct; 77(1):118-129. View in: PubMed

  10. Pfister CA. Extinction, colonization, and species occupancy in tidepool fishes. Oecologia. 1998 Mar; 114(1):118-126. View in: PubMed

  11. Silliman BR, Kareiva P, Pfister CA. In Memoriam: Robert Treat Paine III (1933-2016), An Outsized American Naturalist. Am Nat. 2017 Jan; 189(1):xi-xv. View in: PubMed

  12. Jackrel SL, Owens SM, Gilbert JA, Pfister CA. Identifying the plant-associated microbiome across aquatic and terrestrial environments: the effects of amplification method on taxa discovery. Mol Ecol Resour. 2017 Sep; 17(5):931-942. View in: PubMed

  13. Stepien CC, Pfister CA, Wootton JT. Functional Traits for Carbon Access in Macrophytes. PLoS One. 2016; 11(7):e0159062. View in: PubMed

  14. Pfister CA, Roy K, Wootton JT, McCoy SJ, Paine RT, Suchanek TH, Sanford E. Historical baselines and the future of shell calcification for a foundation species in a changing ocean. Proc Biol Sci. 2016 06 15; 283(1832). View in: PubMed

  15. McCoy SJ, Allesina S, Pfister CA. Ocean acidification affects competition for space: projections of community structure using cellular automata. Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Mar 16; 283(1826):20152561. View in: PubMed

  16. Wootton JT, Pfister CA. Processes affecting extinction risk in the laboratory and in nature. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Nov 03; 112(44):E5903. View in: PubMed

  17. Pfister CA, Gilbert JA, Gibbons SM. The role of macrobiota in structuring microbial communities along rocky shores. PeerJ. 2014; 2:e631. View in: PubMed

  18. Pfister CA, Esbaugh AJ, Frieder CA, Baumann H, Bockmon EE, White MM, Carter BR, Benway HM, Blanchette CA, Carrington E, McClintock JB, McCorkle DC, McGillis WR, Mooney TA, Ziveri P. Detecting the unexpected: a research framework for ocean acidification. Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Sep 02; 48(17):9982-94. View in: PubMed

  19. McCoy SJ, Pfister CA. Historical comparisons reveal altered competitive interactions in a guild of crustose coralline algae. Ecol Lett. 2014 Apr; 17(4):475-83. View in: PubMed

  20. Wootton JT, Pfister CA. Experimental separation of genetic and demographic factors on extinction risk in wild populations. Ecology. 2013 Oct; 94(10):2117-23. View in: PubMed

  21. Wootton JT, Pfister CA. Carbon system measurements and potential climatic drivers at a site of rapidly declining ocean pH. PLoS One. 2012; 7(12):e53396. View in: PubMed

  22. Pfister CA, McCoy SJ, Wootton JT, Martin PA, Colman AS, Archer D. Rapid environmental change over the past decade revealed by isotopic analysis of the California mussel in the northeast Pacific. PLoS One. 2011; 6(10):e25766. View in: PubMed

  23. Barner AK, Pfister CA, Wootton JT. The mixed mating system of the sea palm kelp Postelsia palmaeformis: few costs to selfing. Proc Biol Sci. 2011 May 07; 278(1710):1347-55. View in: PubMed

  24. Pfister CA, Meyer F, Antonopoulos DA. Metagenomic profiling of a microbial assemblage associated with the California mussel: a node in networks of carbon and nitrogen cycling. PLoS One. 2010 May 06; 5(5):e10518. View in: PubMed

  25. van der Sman J, Phillips NE, Pfister CA. Relative effects of maternal and juvenile food availability for a marine snail. Ecology. 2009 Nov; 90(11):3119-25. View in: PubMed

  26. Wootton JT, Pfister CA, Forester JD. Dynamic patterns and ecological impacts of declining ocean pH in a high-resolution multi-year dataset. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Dec 02; 105(48):18848-53. View in: PubMed

  27. Morris WF, Pfister CA, Tuljapurkar S, Haridas CV, Boggs CL, Boyce MS, Bruna EM, Church DR, Coulson T, Doak DF, Forsyth S, Gaillard JM, Horvitz CC, Kalisz S, Kendall BE, Knight TM, Lee CT, Menges ES. Longevity can buffer plant and animal populations against changing climatic variability. Ecology. 2008 Jan; 89(1):19-25. View in: PubMed

  28. Pfister CA. Intertidal invertebrates locally enhance primary production. Ecology. 2007 Jul; 88(7):1647-53. View in: PubMed

  29. Pfister CA. Concordance between short-term experiments and long-term censuses in tide pool fishes. Ecology. 2006 Nov; 87(11):2905-14. View in: PubMed

  30. Morris WF, Tuljapurkar S, Haridas CV, Menges ES, Horvitz CC, Pfister CA. Sensitivity of the population growth rate to demographic variability within and between phases of the disturbance cycle. Ecol Lett. 2006 Dec; 9(12):1331-41. View in: PubMed

  31. Peacor SD, Bence JR, Pfister CA. The effect of size-dependent growth and environmental factors on animal size variability. Theor Popul Biol. 2007 Feb; 71(1):80-94. View in: PubMed

  32. Peacor SD, Pfister CA. Experimental and model analyses of the effects of competition on individual size variation in wood frog (Rana sylvatica) tadpoles. J Anim Ecol. 2006 Jul; 75(4):990-9. View in: PubMed

  33. Wootton JT, Power ME, Paine RT, Pfister CA. Effects of productivity, consumers, competitors, and El Niño events on food chain patterns in a rocky intertidal community. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Nov 26; 93(24):13855-8. View in: PubMed

  34. Pfister CA. Patterns of variance in stage-structured populations: evolutionary predictions and ecological implications. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Jan 06; 95(1):213-8. View in: PubMed