The Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) conducts extensive fieldwork along some 1,200 miles of the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts, in addition to laboratory experiments at the four universities in the consortium.

The core of PISCO research is a sampling program that combines studies of variability in ocean climate with simultaneous multi-species experimental studies of larval and adult populations over most of the U.S. West Coast. We focus on tractable ecosystems -- kelp forests, rocky intertidal and coastal oceans -- which have proven to be model communities for both experimental and theoretical studies . By coordinating simultaneous studies over a range of spatial scales from the individual organism to the regional coastline, PISCO extensively examines the causes and consequences of variation in marine populations on spatial scales that are relevant to marine populations and conservation.



One of the greatest challenges for conservation biologists is to unravel the causes of variation in biological communities. All conservation efforts in the nearshore environment, such as the design of marine reserves, are crucially dependent on understanding these dynamics.

Determining the causes of community variation is a particularly daunting task for nearshore marine communities because three prominent, interdependent sources of variation are poorly understood: coastal nutrients and productivity (so-called "bottom-up" effects), dispersal, and oceanic climate. The goal of PISCO is to increase understanding of these issues.

Interdisciplinary focus

PISCO researchers investigate:
  • Species distributions and interactions
    where fish, invertebrates and macrophytes (seaweeds, seagrasses) live; how abundant they are; how they interact; and the underlying causes for these ecological patterns.
  • Population replenishment and connectivity
    how ocean circulation affects the dispersal of marine organisms in their youngest stages of life (larval stages); how populations are connected by larval dispersal processes
  • Coastal nutrients and productivity
    how currents, upwelling, and other physical and ecological processes affect marine plants and animals,
  • Oceanic climate
    how these coastal ecosystems respond to changes in water temperature, currents, and other factors associated with climate change,
  • Marine ecosystem responses to management
    how coastal ocean ecosystems respond to changes in management, such as implementation of marine reserves and other protected areas.


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