Tiburon Lab
Invasions and Community Ecology on the US West Coast

Tiburon Lab, Summer 2015


Our core mission is to track the pulse of biotic change in the estuaries and coastlines along the Pacific Coast of North America. We identify non-native species in San Francisco Bay and surrounding coastlines, from Alaska to Panama, learn how their life cycles work in these new environs, and determine what effects they might be having on resident communities. We seek, in short, to make the consequences of moving species to strange new oceans both known and predictable, including how these species will interact with changing climate regimes.

Since 2000, our researchers have maintained a laboratory on San Francisco Bay, at San Francisco State University’s marine research and teaching facility, the Romberg Tiburon Center (RTC). A 2013 Memorandum of Understanding between the Smithsonian and San Francisco State University expanded our relationship and signified our joint commitment to understand and protect the marine environment (see feature story). With our colleagues at RTC and the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, we are excited to be part of a community of researchers engaged in working out the effects of global change, invasions, and many other pressing issues in truly complementary fashion.

The Tiburon team is led by Dr. Andrew Chang, and includes Dr. Chela Zabin, Linda McCann, Michelle Marraffini, Lina Ceballos, and Dr. Haizea Jimenez.

Research Highlights

SERC diver Lina Ceballos carries sampling equipment (quadrats and a slate) to be used in outer coast surveys (Photo: Michelle Marraffini)
SERC researcher Dr. Haizea Jimenez works with a summer intern to process soft sediment samples aboard RTC's boat the Questuary. (Photo: Michelle Marraffini)
A large reproductive adult Undaria pinnatifida found under floating docks. Eradication efforts use volunteers and divers to remove the adults from docks. (Photo: Chela Zabin)
Green crabs collected from Seadrift Lagoon. After years of eradication the population may be rebounding and number more than 400,000. (Photo: Christopher Brown)
SERC diver, Gail Ashton, takes sample of a fouled hull. (Photo: SERC)

Community Ecology

We have undertaken intensive, long-term studies of marine and estuarine communities across several habitats in California and especially San Francisco Bay, including hard substrates (fouling), soft sediment benthos, and plankton. We have used settlement panels to study fouling community development and invasion impacts since 2000 as part of an international effort to understand and document patterns of the species distributions and invasion in marine coastal waters. Recent studies have paired traditional morphological approaches to species identification with genetic approaches (with our collaborator, Dr. Jonathan Geller) to get a more complete picture of the species in California bays and nearshore environments.

Invasive Species

Vessels of all kinds move species within and between bays. Our scientific divers conduct in-water hull surveys of boats and ships in West Coast ports and beyond to assess the role of vessel biofouling in moving organisms from port to port. Read more about our work on cargo and cruise ships in the Smithsonian Magazine.

We have studied ways to make eradication of targeted non-native pest species more efficient and effective, and have undertaken numerous eradication efforts, including the Japanese Mudsnail (Batillaria attramentaria) and the colonial tunicate Didemnum vexillum. Most recently, we have been working with UC Davis to monitor and eradicate a local population of non-native European Green Crabs (Carcinus maenas) near Stinson Beach, CA.

Native Olympia Oysters

We collaborate with a number of agencies and research facilities to investigate native Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida) demographics along California’s shorelines. Using a rigorous combination of field surveys, laboratory experiments, and population modeling, we examine the influence of environmental factors, climate change, and non-native species on the distribution and abundance of native oysters. We are also investigating oyster enhancement and restoration methods in San Francisco Bay and Elkhorn Slough. More information is available on the San Francisco Bay Subtidal Habitat Goals Project page and from the Elkhorn Slough Foundation

Citizen Science

Citizen scientists form an essential and dedicated component of our research efforts. We run a citizen science network (Plate Watch and Green Crab Watch) to monitor for target non-native species along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California. Participants include scientists from local state and federal agencies, concerned citizens, school groups and native groups. Within San Francisco Bay, we run citizen science programs to track Olympia oyster recruitment and the movement and predatory effects of the introduced snail Urosalpinx cinerea. If you wish to participate in any SI Citizen Science program, please contact Allison Cawood for more information at cawooda@si.edu.


We mentor interns and students in a wide range of capacities, and we usually host several undergraduate interns each summer through programs run by SERC and by San Francisco State University (SFSU). SFSU internship opportunities include an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program. SERC internship opportunities include an REU and numerous other opportunities. Each student participates in major lab projects as well as designs and executes an individual research project. Please see each program for their requirements and how to apply.



For more information regarding our west coast research and laboratory, please contact:
Dr. Andrew Chang, Program Leader
(415) 435-7128