Stuart Sandin

Assistant Professor
Office: 4150 Hubbs Hall
Phone: 858-534-4150
Fax:  858-822-1267


Research Interests
I am broadly interested in community ecology, specifically considering the predictable and deterministic dynamics of interacting populations. My theoretical and empirical work has been focused on coral reef communities, covering a broad spectrum of anthropogenically disturbed and undisturbed conditions.

Current Projects
- Palmyra and the Line Islands

There are almost no pristine coral reefs in the world. Former reefs full of sharks, large fishes, sea turtles, and healthy corals are all but gone. Impacts such as chronic over-fishing, pollution, climate change, and
disease have deteriorated reefs. One of the major problems for the conservation of coral reefs is that we seldom have ecological baselines against which to compare present reefs. Such quantitative baselines can reveal the ecological characteristics that have been lost and potentially can guide us toward strategies to restore degraded reefs. To supply an ecological baseline, the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation has conducted a thorough study of the ecosystems of two of the most pristine coral reefs remaining, those surrounding Palmyra atoll and Kingman reef in the Line Islands. With a diverse team of reef ecologists from various institutions, we described the diversity and structure of the reef communities, sampling all major taxonomic groups, including the microbes, algae, corals, other invertebrates, and fish. In order to quantify the effects of human disturbance on coral reef ecosystems, we conducted comparable surveys on two inhabited islands of the Line Islands archipelago, Tabuaeran and Kiritibati. This survey (August/September 2005) has offered a unique view into the groups of organisms that are lost, the species interactions that are altered, and the trophic dynamics that are changed as humans disturb a reef. Through more recent and ongoing investigations in the region, we are detailing the functional consequences associated with dramatic alteration of food web structure.

Read more about this work at:
San Diego Union-Tribune
SIO Explorations
Science News Focus

- Predictability of marine community succession
Using a variety of analytical techniques I have been considering dynamics of marine
communities, specifically identifying the ecological impacts of humans on community development and succession. These research efforts include theoretical advances of marine ecosystem dynamics, synthesis and analysis of community data from marine habitats across the globe, and alternative statistical treatments of mechanistic studies.

- Population regulation and the implications
Knowing the dominant source of population regulation via density-dependent dynamics is crucial to the effective design of management and restoration efforts for conservation. A population that is regulated by competition for food will react quite differently to growth (or decline) of a predator population than will a population regulated directly by these predators. I have been working to resolve seemingly conflicting results from the literature to find consensus in the dominant dynamics and forms of density dependence acting in natural and recovering reef fish communities. Related research on the demographics of coral populations is revealing new insights into mechanisms structuring tropical, benthic populations and highlighting the fundamental role of microbes in coral ecology.

- Coral reef education
In an effort to share information about coral reef biology, I have been helping Neilan Kuntz and Dr. Forest Rohwer at San Diego State University to develop online educational tools. Short videos and mini-documentaries can be found at:

UC San Diego, B.S. Ecology, Behavior, & Evolution, 1994
Princeton University, Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2002
Princeton University, Lecturer and Research Associate, 2002-2003
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Postgraduate Researcher, 2004-2007

Selected Publications

Vermeij, M.J.A., J.E. Smith, C.M. Smith, R. Vega Thurber, S.A. Sandin. 2009. Survival and settlement success of coral planulae: independent and synergistic effects of macroalgae and microbes. Oecologia 159: 325-336.

Sandin, S.A., M.J.A. Vermeij, and A.H. Hurlbert. 2008. Island biogeography of Caribbean coral reef fish. Global Ecology and Biogeography 17: 770-777.

Vermeij, M.J.A. and S.A. Sandin. 2008. Density-dependent settlement and mortality structure the earliest life phases of a Caribbean coral population. Ecology 89: 1994-2004.

DeMartini, E.E., A.M. Friedlander, S.A. Sandin, E. Sala. 2008. Differences in fish-assemblage structure between fished and unfished atolls in the northern Line Islands, central Pacific. Marine Ecology Progress Series 365: 199-215. [Faculty of 1000]

Sandin, S.A., J.E. Smith, E.E. DeMartini, E.A. Dinsdale, S.D. Donner, A.M. Friedlander, T. Konotchick, M. Malay, J.E. Maragos, D. Obura, O. Pantos, G. Paulay, M. Richie, F. Rohwer, R.E. Schroeder, S. Walsh, J.B.C. Jackson, N. Knowlton, E. Sala. 2008. Baselines and degradation of coral reefs in the northern Line Islands. PLoS ONE 3(2): e1548. [Faculty of 1000]

Dinsdale, E.A., O. Pantos, S. Smriga, R.A. Edwards, F. Angly, D. Hall, E. Brown, M. Haynes, L. Krause, E. Sala, S.A. Sandin, R. Vega Thurber, B.L. Willis, F. Azam, N. Knowlton, F. Rohwer. 2008. Microbial ecology of four coral atolls in the northern Line Islands. PLoS ONE 3(2): e1584. [Faculty of 1000]

Vermeij, M.J.A., S.A. Sandin, and J.F. Samhouri. 2007. Local habitat distribution determines the relative frequency and interbreeding potential for two Caribbean coral morphospecies. Evolutionary Ecology 21: 27-47.

Smith, J.E., M. Shaw, R.A. Edwards, D. Obura, O. Pantos, E. Sala, S.A. Sandin, S. Smriga, and F. Rohwer. 2006. Indirect effects of algae on coral: algae-mediated, microbe-induced coral mortality. Ecology Letters 9: 835-845.

Sandin, S.A. and S.W. Pacala. 2005. Demographic theory of coral reef fish populations with stochastic recruitment: comparing sources of population regulation. American Naturalist 165: 107-119.

Sandin, S.A. and S.W. Pacala. 2005. Fish aggregation results in inversely density dependent predation on continuous coral reefs. Ecology 86: 1520-1530.

Kuntz, N.M., D.I. Kline, S.A. Sandin, and F. Rohwer. 2005. Pathologies and mortality rates caused by organic carbon and nutrient stressors in three Caribbean coral species. Marine Ecology Progress Series 294: 173-180.

Sandin, S.A., J. Regetz, and S.L. Hamilton. 2005. Testing larval fish dispersal hypotheses using maximum likelihood analysis of otolith microchemistry data. Marine and Freshwater Research 56: 725-734.

Hixon, M.A., S.W. Pacala, and S.A. Sandin. 2002. Population regulation: historical context and contemporary challenges of open vs. closed systems. Ecology 83: 1490-1508.

 Popular Press

Stuart Sandin, 3 July 2009.  Successes at sea. San Diego Union-Tribune.

Stuart Sandin, 9 March 2008. Protecting our seas: would marine conservation meet with Teddy Roosevelt's approval? San Diego Union-Tribune.

NPR Interview, 6 August 2008. Fishing Takes Toll on Shark Populations

History channel video, Coral reef conservation