marine organism-environment interaction


Matthew Savoca is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology. His interests lie at the nexus of animal behavior and conservation biology, using principles from sensory ecology to drive research on a) chemically-mediated community interactions between top predators and primary producers involving biogeochemical cycles and b) sensory cues associated with marine plastic debris and the role these cues have in the consumption of plastic debris mistaken for food. Matthew is also interested in the causes and consequences of coloniality in seabirds.


BS Applied Ecology; Cornell University (2010)

Research Interests

I am interested broadly in marine ecology and conservation. One project I am working on investigates the role seabirds play in pelagic marine ecosystems by recycling limiting nutrients, such as iron. We know that for vast regions of the ocean, bioavailable iron limits primary productivity. It is less well known what role marine top predators play in recycling ingested iron to phytoplankton, the base of the marine food web. Seabirds, with their ability to use visual, olfactory, and social cues to locate food as well as their extremely high mobility makes them a crucial link connecting apex predators to the base of the pelagic food web. Thus far, my research suggests that a decline in seabird populations could negatively affect overall marine productivity.

My other project examines odor cues associated with marine plastic debris and how these cues may explain why certain species readily mistake plastic debris for prey. To address this question, I am using a combination of field and lab work to quantify plastic debris-related odors as well as organisms’ responses to these odors in a controlled setting. Field work has been conducted at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab, and Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. Lab work has been done at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science at UC Davis. During summer 2015, I conducted a behavioral test of this theory on Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax) at The Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco.

Want to know more? Check out my website.


About Matthew Savoca