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Robert M. Cerrato


Ph.D., 1980, Yale University

Benthic ecology, population and community dynamics.


Research Interests

Populations of large suspension feeding bivalves such as the hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria have declined in the shallow, enclosed bays that are common features on Long Island. For a number of years, my research has tried to identify factors that contributed to the decline, and more recently it has focused on the loss of function created by the decline and its consequences. Colleagues, students, and I have found strong evidence suggesting that the decline in extensive populations of suspension feeders has altered the food web structure of the plankton, has resulted in the collapse of a positive feedback loop between the bivalves and the plankton, and has contributed to the abundance of the toxic brown tide alga Aureococcus anophagefferens. This research has also suggested that rapid recovery may not occur unless stocks are rebuilt to a large enough size to restore lost function.

I have also been analyzing benthic communities in space and time to develop a reliable method for identifying and mapping benthic biotopes. In recent work, I became convinced that traditional multivariate statistical tools for community analysis fall short in adequately representing community structure. In addition, recently developed high-resolution acoustic methods such as side-scan and multibeam sonar provide a whole new class of environmental variables that can be related to benthic community structure. Colleagues, students, and I have been working to discover and test new environmental variables derived from acoustic and grain-size data, develop new analysis techniques for analyzing multivariate biotic-environmental data, and devise a parsimonious, multistage sampling design that can be used for biotope identification. Results to date indicate that biologically meaningful variables can be derived from acoustic and grain-size data, and that a subset consisting of new and traditional variables from a variety of spatial scales may be the most appropriate mix to explain benthic community structure. The ability to map biotopes has great importance for the conservation and management of benthic fauna and the populations of animals that rely on them as a food source.

Selected Publications

Lonsdale, D.J., R.M. Cerrato, D.A. Caron, and R.A. Schaffner (2007) Zooplankton changes associated with the grazing pressure of northern quahogs (Mercenaria mercenaria L.) in experimental mesocosms. Est. Coast. Shelf Sci. 73: 101-110.

Cerrato, R.M. (2006) Longterm and largescale patterns in the benthic communities of the Lower Bay Complex. In: The Hudson River Ecosystem. J.S. Levinton and J.R. Waldman, eds. Cambridge U. Press., Cambridge. pp. 242-465.

F.O. Nitsche, R. Bell, S.M. Carbotte, W.B.F. Ryan, R. Flood, V. Ferrini, A. Slagle, C. McHugh, S. Chillrud, T. Kenna, D. Strayer, and R. Cerrato (2005) High-Resolution Mapping of the Hudson River Estuary reveals new insights on sedimentary processes and benthic habitats. EOS 86: 225-229.

Greenfield, D.I., D.J. Lonsdale, and R.M. Cerrato (2005) Linking phytoplankton community composition with juvenile-phase growth in the northern quahog Mercenaria mercenaria (L.). Estuaries 28: 241-251.

Caron, D.A., C.J. Gobler, D. J. Lonsdale, R.M. Cerrato, R.A. Schaffner, J.M. Rose, N.J. Buck, G.T. Taylor, K.R. Boissonneault, and R. Mehran (2004) Microbial herbivory on the brown tide alga, Aureococcus anophagefferens: results from natural ecosystems, mesocosms and laboratory experiments. Harmful Algae 3: 439-457.

Cerrato, R.M., D.A. Caron, D.J. Lonsdale, J.M. Rose, and R.A. Schaffner (2004) An experimental approach to examine the effect of the northern quahog Mercenaria mercenaria on the development of blooms of the brown tide alga, Aureococcus anophagefferens. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 281: 93-108

Greenfield, D.I., D.J. Lonsdale, R.M. Cerrato, and G.R. Lopez (2004) The effects of background concentrations of the brown tide alga Aureococcus anophagefferens on growth and feeding in the bivalve Mercenaria mercenaria. Marine Ecology Progress Series 274: 171-181.

Landman, N.H., J.K. Cochran, R.M. Cerrato, J. Mak, C.F.E. Roper, and C.C. Lu. (2004) Habitat and age of the giant squid (Architeuthis sanctipauli Velain, 1877) inferred from isotope analyses. Marine Biology 144: 685-691.

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