Jennifer O'Leary

Jennifer O'Leary

Contact Information

California Sea Grant Extension Agent

Office: 53-220
Phone: (805) 756-2896

Research Interests:

My research focuses on how human disturbance and environmental variability affect persistence and recovery of marine systems, and how we can manage complex systems for long term sustainability. I work in coastal California (kelp forest and estuary ecosystems) and in East Africa (coral reef ecosystems). I use a combination of research tools including field studies, laboratory studies involving genetics, and meta-analytic studies. I work closely with managers and communities to develop ways to integrate science and conservation/management. I also develop new scientific tools that facilitate management of marine resources. I have worked for over 14 years designing research programs to address marine conservation challenges. 

Past work has included the effects of ocean acidification on benthic habitat and invertebrate recruitment in California, the development of a global Ocean Health Index, fishing-induced trophic cascades in coral reef systems, and management of California abalone populations. 

In addition to the projects listed below, I will be developing some new initiatives in the Morro Bay and Central Coast region this year in collaboration with fishers, policy makers, businesses, and citizens.


Ph.D., Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2010
B.S. (cum laude), Tufts University, 1996

Professional Appointments:

Marine Scientist, California Sea Grant & Adjunct Faculty, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 2014-Present
Postdoctoral Researcher, Stanford University, 2012-2014
Postdoctoral Researcher, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 2010-2011
Marine Fellow, American Museum of Natural History, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, 2009-2010

Current Research Projects:

  • Developing tools to rapidly assess invertebrate recruitment using meta-genomics (California)
  • Role of coralline algae in abalone recruitment (California & Washington)
  • Evaluating the effects of seastar wasting disease on intertidal communities (California)
  • Assessing resilience in marine ecosystems (global analysis): kelp forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds, oyster reefs, salt marshes, and mangroves.
  • Linking science with management of Marine Protected Areas (California & East Africa)
  • Determining causes and consequences of eelgrass decline in Morro Bay (California)

I work with student interns and graduate students focused on projects in California.


Selected recent publications:

Edmunds P., M. Adjeroud, M. Baskett, I. Baums, A. Budd, R. Carpenter, N. Fabina, T.-Y. Fan, E. Franklin, K. Gross, X. Han, L. Jacobson, J. Klaus, T. McClanahan, J.K. O'Leary, M. van Oppen, X. Pochon, H. Putnam, T. Smith, M. Stat, H. Sweatman, R. van Woesik, and R. Gates. Persistence and change in community composition of reef corals through present, past and future climates. In Revision, PLoS One.

Selig, L., M. Frazier, J.K. O'Leary, K. Longo, K. Kleisner, M. Ranalletti, S. Jupiter, B. Halpern. Measuring indicators of ocean health that deliver ecosystem services in an island nation: the Ocean Health Index for Fiji.Accepted for special issue of Journal of Ecosystem Services.

O'Leary J.K., D. Potts, K. Schoenrock, T. McClanahan. 2013. Fish and sea urchin grazing opens settlement space equally but urchins reduce survival of coral recruits. Marine Ecology Progress Series 493: 165–177.

Halpern B., C. Longo, D. Hardy, K. McLeod, J. Samhouri, S. Katona, K. Kleisner, S. Lester, J.K. O'Leary, M. Ranelletti, A. Rosenberg, C. Scarborough, E. Selig, B. Best, D. Brumbaugh, F. Chapin, L. Crowder, K. Daly, S. Doney, M. Fogardy, S. Gaines, K. Jacobsen, L. Bunce Karrer, H. Leslie, D. Pauly, S. Polasky, K. Martin, G. Stone, U. Sumaila, H. Tallis, D. Zeller. 2012. An Ocean Health Index to assess global marine social-ecological systems. Nature 488: 615-621.

Kulbicki M., J. Beets, P. Chabanet, K. Cure, E. Darling, S. Floeter, R. Galzin, A. Green, M. Harmelin-Vivien, M. Hixon, Y. Letourneur, T. de Loma, T. McClanahan, J. McIlwain, G. Moutham, R. Myers, J.K. O'Leary, S. Planes, L. Vigliola, L. Wantiez. 2012. Distributions of Indo-Pacific lionfishes (Pterois spp.) in their native ranges: implications for the Atlantic invasion. Marine Ecology Progress Series 446: 189–205.

Van Woesik R., E. Brown, J.K. O'Leary, T. McClanahan, J. Klaus, A. Budd. 2012. Hosts of the Plio-Pleistocene past reflect modern-day coral vulnerability. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279 (1737): 2448-2456.

O'Leary J.K., D. Potts, J.C. Braga, T. McClanahan. 2012. Indirect effects of fishing: reductions in crustose coralline algae suppress coral recruitment. Coral Reefs 31: 557-559

Darling E.S., S.J. Green, J.K. O'Leary, and I. Cote. 2011. Indo-Pacific lionfish are larger and more abundant on invaded reefs: A comparison of Kenyan and Bahamian lionfish populations. Biological Invasions 13 (9): 2045-2051.

O'Leary J.K. and D.C. Potts. 2011. The use of hierarchical sampling to understand spatial scales of variation in coral recruitment. Coral Reefs 30(4); 1013-1023.

O'Leary J.K. and T. McClanahan. 2010. Trophic cascades result in large scale coralline algae loss through differential grazer effects. Ecology: 91(12), 2010, pp. 3584–3597


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