Peter J. Edmunds

Peter Edmunds
(818) 677-2502
Office location:
Magnolia Hall 4113



Ph.D. Glasgow University

Research Specialities

Research in my lab focuses on the physiological ecology of tropical reef corals and I work at the organismic, population, and community levels.  My research program is structured into two thematic areas.  First, I study the ecology and long-term dynamics of coral reefs in order to identify temporal trends and provide a rich ecological context within which mechanistic research can be designed.  Over the last 27 years, most of my ecological research has taken place on the shallow reefs along the south coast of St. John, US Virgin Islands, where the natural resources are protected within the VI National Park and Biosphere Reserve.  Close collaboration with the biologists and resource managers of the VI National Park has been critical in developing this project.  In 2004, I started a large collaborative project to address the long-term dynamics of coral communities in Moorea, French Polynesia, as part of the US Long Term Ecological Research program (  My research in Moorea is beginning to provide a fascinating time-series context that describes the dynamics of coral reefs in the south Pacific that are strongly affected by physical forces (e.g., large storm waves), and most recently, an outbreak of the crown of the thorns seastar, Acanthaster planci.   Now in its 5th year, my work in Moorea is beginning to achieve the temporal detail necessary for meaningful contrasts with other biogeographic regions, notably in the Caribbean (in St. John).  Second, I study the biology of individual corals in order to better understand their basic functionality, specifically to establish mechanistic links between organism performance and community dynamics.  For example, my long-term research in St. John has identified the dynamics of juvenile corals (colonies < 4 cm diameter) as a critical process affecting community structure; surprisingly, juvenile corals in this relatively pristine location have higher mortality rates than found in more disturbed locations such as the Florida Keys.  To explore the causal basis of this trend, over the last decade I have initiated a program exploring the mechanistic basis of the effects of temperature on these early life history stages, and now am beginning to explore the effects of ocean acidification in the same system. 



• Invertebrate Biology (Biol 313)
• Physiological Ecology (Biol 422)

Field classes

• Catalina Science Semester.  This is a 15-week residential class at Santa Catalina Island, which usually is taught every one every two years in the Fall (next offering F2010)

• Three Seas Marine Biology Program.  This is a year-long program offered by Northeastern University that places students in residential marine biology classes in Nahant (MA), Moorea (French Polynesia), and Santa Catalina Island (CA).  During January/February, I teach the class “Biology of Corals and Coral Reefs” in Moorea. 

Current research and funding

Research in my lab currently is funded through NSF awards in the Long Term Research in Environmental Biology program (LTREB; for work in St. John, USVI), the Long Term Ecological Research Program (LTER; for work in Moorea, French Polynesia), and the Advancing Theory in Biology program (ATB; for research on Dynamic Energy Budgets in collaboration with Dr. Roger Nisbet [UCSB]).  My research in St. John focuses on decadal-scale perspectives of coral reef community dynamics (the current award will take the project to its 23nd year), the development of demographic models to better understand the causal basis of changes in coral cover, and the testing of thermal effects on early life history stages of reef corals (i.e., juvenile corals and new recruits).  Our LTER research in Moorea now provides exciting opportunities for process-oriented analyses that can be used to test hypotheses regarding the causes of the changes described in St. John.

Our LTER project in Moorea was awarded in September 2004 and is funded for six years with the expectation that it will be supported for 30+ years.  Together with three other Principal Investigators (Drs. Robert Carpenter [CSUN], Russell Schmitt [UCSB] and Sally Holbrook [UCSB]) and 14 other research scientists, I have established a project supporting a time-series analysis of the coral community structure around the three shores of Moorea that are exposed to differing hydrodynamic regimes.  My responsibilities within this project focus on the ecology and biology of the scleractinian corals, and therefore in addition to the time-series analysis for this taxon, my studies have focused on their mechanistic biology.  In the first 5 years of this project, my experimental work has addressed the effects of temperature on the early life history stages of corals that include their larvae, new recruits, and juvenile colonies.

In addition to my major research efforts in Moorea and St. John, I am working to build a collaboration with coral scientists at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in southern Taiwan (  This facility offers unrivalled opportunities for studies of the ecology and physiology of tropical reef corals and already we have made multiple trips with students to establish the relationship and have established a formal relationship between CSUN and the National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan.  Working closely with our Taiwanese counterpart, Dr. Tung-Yung Fan, we are pursuing significant funding that would allow us to complete significant research in Taiwan.

Principal Collaborators

Drs. Russell Schmitt and Sally Holbrook (University of California at Santa Barbara)
            • ecology of coral reefs in Moorea
Dr. Robert Carpenter (CSUN)
            • ecology of coral reefs in Moorea and the Caribbean
Dr. Ruth D. Gates (University of Hawaii)
            • physiology and molecular biology of reef corals
Dr. Hunter Lenihan (University of California at Santa Barbara)
            • ecology of reef corals in Moorea
Dr. James Leichter (Scripps Institute of Oceanography)
            • biophysical coupling on coral reef systems
Dr. Roger Nisbet (University of California at Santa Barbara)
            • dynamic energy budgets for reef corals
Dr. Tung Yung Fan (National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, Taiwan)
            • ecology and biology of reef corals in Taiwan
Dr. Mehdi Adjeroud (Université de Perpignan, France)
            • reef ecology in Moorea

Graduate students

My graduate students work on coral reef research, and all are encouraged to develop their own project independent of the externally-funded research in my lab.  Their projects cover a wide diversity of topics within an ecophysiological theme, and all are completed in parallel with existing projects in the Caribbean, South Pacific, and Taiwan.  Thesis projects have included:

  • Ananda Ellis
  • Nick Evensen
  • Beth Lenz
  • Jennifer Smolenski
  • Alex Yarid
  • Sylvia Zamudio
  • William Goldenheim -- photophysiological performance of tropical reef corals.
  • Daniel Green -- small--scale thermal effects on coral recruitment in St. John, US Virgin Islands.
  • Caitlin Cameron -- direct and indirect effects of fish predation on tropical reef corals.
  • Nicholas Colvard -- light microenvironments on coral reefs and their effects on coral physiology.
  • Nancy Muehllehner -- The effect of pCO2 on coral morphology and skeletal structure (M.S., CSUN, 2008).
  • Hollie Putnam -- The physiological response of reef corals to short-term fluctuations in temperature (M.S., CSUN, 2008).
  • Mairead Maheigan -- Scale dependency of phenotypic plasticity in reef corals
  • Robin Elahi -- Effects of age and size on the growth and physiology of scleractinian corals (M.S., CSUN, 2006).
  • Laurie Requa -- Mechanisms of adaptation by reef corals to the low irradiance conditions found beneath algal mats
  • Geoff Horst -- The interactive effects of temperature and aragonite saturation state on coral growth (M.S., CSUN, 2004).
  • Traci Prude -- Interactions between juvenile corals and algal turf communities
  • Joshua Idjadi -- The role of scleractinian corals in positive interactions in tropical coastal communities
  • Rebecca Habeeb -- Acclimation in tropical reef corals (M.S., CSUN, 2001).
  • Carla Zilberberg -- Mechanisms and consequences of competitive interactions among small corals (M.S. CSUN, 2001).
  • Steven Vollmer -- The scaling of physiological traits in juvenile scleractinians (M.S.).

Recent and Seminal Publications

2013 Lenz EA, Brown D, Didden C, Arnold A, Edmunds PJ.  The distribution of hermit crabs and their gastropod shells on shallow reefs in St. John, US Virgin Islands.  Bulletin of Marine Science (in press)

2013 Wall CB, Fan TY, Edmunds PJ.  Ocean acidification has no effect on thermal bleaching in the coral Seriatopora caliendrum.  Coral Reefs (accepted Sept 2013)

2013 Leichter JJ, Alldredge AL, Bernardi G, Brooks AJ, Carlson CA, Carpenter RC, Edmunds PJ, Fewings MR, Hanson KM, Hench JL, Holbrook SJ, Nelson CE, Schmitt RJ, Toonen RJ, Washburn L, Wyatt ASJ.  Biological and physical interactions on a tropical island coral reef.  Oceanography (Sept 2013) 52-63

2013 Wall CB, Edmunds PJ. In situ effects of low pH and elevated HCO3- on juvenile Porites spp. in Moorea, French Polynesia.  Biological Bulletin (in press, Sept 2013)

2013 Edmunds PJ, Carpenter RC, Comeau S.  Understanding the threads of Ocean Acidification to coral reefs.  Oceanography (Sept 2013) 149-152

2013 Edmunds PJ.  Decadal-scale changes in the community structure of coral reefs in St. John, US Virgin Islands.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 489: 107-123

2013 Comeau, S, Carpenter, RC, Edmunds PJ. Response to: Coral reef calcification – carbonate, bicarbonate and proton flux under conditions of increasing ocean acidification.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 280:

2013 Cumbo VR, Edmunds PJ, Wall CB, Fan T-Y. Brooded coral larvae differ in their response to high temperature and elevated pCO2 depending on the day of release.  Marine Biology DOI 10.1007/s00227-013-2280-y

2013 Edmunds PJ, Cumbo VR, Fan TY. Metabolic costs of larval settlement and metamorphosis in the coral Seriatopora caliendrum under ambient and elevated pCO2.  Journal Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 443: 33-38

2013 Dufault AM, Ninokawa A, Bramanti L, Cumbo VR, Fan T-Y, Edmunds PJ.  The role of light in mediating the effects of ocean acidification on coral calcification.  Journal of Experimental Biology 216: 1570-1577

2013 Comeau S, Edmunds P, Spindel N, Carpenter RC. The responses of eight coral reef calcifiers to increasing partial pressure of CO2 do not exhibit a tipping point.  Limnology and Oceanography 58: 388-398

2013 Brown D, Edmunds PJ.  Long-term changes in the population dynamics of the Caribbean hydrocoral Millepora spp.  J. Exp Mar Biol Ecol 441: 62-70

2013 Comeau S, Carpenter RC. Edmunds PJ.  Effects of feeding and light intensity on the response of the coral Porites rus to ocean acidification.  Marine Biology 160: 1127-1134

2012 Comeau S, Carpenter RC. Edmunds PJ.  Coral reef calcifiers buffer their response to ocean acidification using both bicarbonate and carbonate.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 280, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2374

2012 Cumbo, VR, Fan TY, Edmunds PJ. Effects of exposure duration on the response of Pocillopora damicornis larvae to elevated temperature and high pCO2.  J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 439: 100-107

2012 Peter J. Edmunds, Hollie M. Putnam, Ruth D. Gates.  Photophysiological consequences of vertical stratification of Symbiodinium in tissue of the coral Porites lutea.  Biological Bulletin 223: 226-235

2012 Cumbo, VR, Fan TY, Edmunds PJ.  Physiological development of brooded larvae from two pocilloporid corals in Taiwan.  Marine Biology 159: 2853-2866

2012 Brown D, Edmunds PJ. The hermit crab Calcinus tibicen lives commensally on Millepora spp. in St. John, United States Virgin Islands.  Coral Reefs 32: 127-135

2012 Colvard, NB, Edmunds PJ.  Macroalgae on shallow tropical reefs reduce the availability of reflected light for use in coral photosynthesis.  Bulletin of Marine Sciences 88: 1019-1033

2012 Cumbo, VR, Fan TY, Edmunds PJ.  Scleractinian corals capture zooplankton within days of settlement and metamorphosis.  Coral Reefs 31: 1155

2012 Edmunds PJ. Effect of pCO2 on the growth, respiration, and photophysiology of massive Porites spp. in Moorea, French Polynesia.  Marine Biology 159: 2149-2160

2012 Aaron M Dufault, Vivian R Cumbo, Tung-Yung Fan, Peter J Edmunds.  Effects of diurnally oscillating pCO2 on the calcification and survival of coral recruits.  Royal Society of London (B) 279: 2951-2958

2012 Edmunds, PJ, Brown DB, Moriarty C. Interactive effects of ocean acidification and temperature on two scleractinian corals from Moorea, French Polynesia.  Global Change Biology 18: 2173-2183

2012 Beijbom, O, Mitchell G, Edmunds PJ. Automated Annotation of Coral Reef Survey Images.  CVPR Conference 2012.2008 Edmunds PJ, Gates RD. Acclimatization in tropical reef corals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 361: 307-310

2008 Edmunds PJ. Seawater temperature mediates growth scaling in juvenile scleractinian corals. Marine Biology 154: 153-162

2007 Edmunds PJ. Evidence for a decadal-scale decline in the growth rates of juvenile scleractinian corals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 341: 1-13

2007 Edmunds PJ, Elahi R. The demographics of a 15-year decline in cover of the Caribbean reef coral Montastraea annularis. Ecological Monographs 77: 3-18

2006 Edmunds PJ. Temperature-mediated transitions between isometry and allometry in a colonial modular invertebrate. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 273: 2275-2281

2006 Carpenter RC, Edmunds PJ Local and regional scale recovery of Diadema promotes recruitment of scleractinian corals. Ecology Letters 9: 271-280 (DOI 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2005.00866.x)

2005 Edmunds PJ. The effect of sub-lethal increases in temperature on the growth and population trajectories of three scleractinian corals on the southern Great Barrier Reef Oecologia 146: 350-364 (DOI 10.1007/s00442-005-0219-5)

2002 Edmunds PJ. Long-term dynamics of shallow coral reefs in St. John, US Virgin Islands. Coral Reefs 21:357-367.

2001 Edmunds PJ, Carpenter RC. Recovery of Diadema Leads to Reduced Macroalgal Cover and Increased Abundance of Juvenile Corals on a Caribbean Reef. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 98: 5067-5071.

1997 Bruno JF, Edmunds PJ. Clonal variation for phenotypic plasticity in the coralMadracis mirabilis. Ecology 78: 2177-2190.