Faculty Profiles

Les Kaufman

Les Kaufman

Professor of Biology

PhD, Johns Hopkins University, 1980
Areas of interest: marine biology, evolutionary ecology, and conservation biology
(617) 353-5560

Current Research

Our laboratory is devoted to understanding the processes that create, maintain, extinguish and conserve aquatic biodiversity. Our work has historically been very broad, encompassing marine, freshwater, and watershed ecosystems in both temperate and tropical environments.

We work at three scales: ecosystem, community, and organism. At the largest scale, we are working on the fundamental dynamics of coupled human-natural systems, in pursuit of a rigorous science of sustainability. We study these systems by creating ecological economic models of coastal (marine and watershed) ecosystems along with their embedded cultural-social-economic infrastructure. The models are dynamic and spatially explicit, revealing ecosystem service tradeoffs, and forecasting the outcomes of alternative policies. The models are nourished by data from new observational and analytical methods, including nonlinear time series analysis, historical ecology, and high-volume benthic photogrammetry and other forms of remote sensing. Our big ecosystem projects right now are for eastern Massachusetts and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary; Great Lake Tonle Sap in the lower Mekong basin, Cambodia; and the Atlantic Rainforest-Abrolhos Bank coral reef ecosystem in Bahia, Brazil. We also continue our multi-decadal studies of Lake Victoria in East Africa, with a project on the linkages among limnology, fisheries, and political unrest. Our empirical contribution to these ecosystem projects is through field work in fish biology and food web reconstruction using stable isotopes.

At the level of community ecology we study degradation and regenerative processes on coral reefs, with field sites in the central Pacific, Brazil, and Belize. We utilize marine reserves and zoning schemes as adaptive management experiments, examining the outcomes of different management regimes using new diagnostics for marine ecosystem health and resilience, such as CHI, the Coral Health Index, and other measures of microbial, benthic and fish community function. We do this work by diving or with remote cameras and sampling devices at greater depths.

At the organismal level, we study corals under severe duress. One such project is “Coral Whisperer,” looking at the genes that reef-building corals up-regulate to deal with stressors such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution. CW is a consortium, with our lab focused on the ability of coral colonies to defend themselves against daily wear and tear in an ocean altered by declining pH and rising temperature. This work integrates across biological scales, with a special focus on the interactions of fishes, corals, and algae.

We are highly collaborative, engaging multiple labs at BU (e.g. Finnerty, Lobel, Gilmore, Gopal) as well as close working relationships with conservation organizations (chiefly Conservation International) and state and federal agencies. Our students are encouraged to join the PIs in the invention of conservation solutions, especially for the precarious New England fisheries.

Courses Taught

  • KHC 301 The Disciplined Mind (ecosystem modeling unit in a team-taught course for the Kilachand Honors College)
  • BI 546 Marine Megafaunal Ecology of Stellwagen Bank and Adjacent Waters
  • BI 539 Coral Reef Dynamics

Selected Publications

  • Liu H, M. Fogarty MJ, Glaser SM, Altman I, Hsieh CH, Kaufman L, Rosenberg AA, Sugihara G. (2012). Nonlinear dynamic features and co-predictability of the Georges Bank fish community. Marine Ecology Progress Series 464: 195-207.
  • Amado-Filho GM, Moura RL, Bastos AC, Salgado LT, Sumida PY, et al. (2012). Rhodolith Beds Are Major CaCO3 Bio-Factories in the Tropical South West Atlantic. PLoS ONE 7(4): e35171. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035171.
  • Hansen GJA, Ban NC, Jones ML, Kaufman L, Panes HM, Yasué M, Vincent ACJ. (2011). Hindsight in marine protected area selection: A comparison of ecological representation arising from opportunistic and systematic approaches. Biological Conservation. 144:1866–1875.
  • de Aguiar MAM, Baranger M, Baptestini EM, Kaufman L, Bar-Yam Y. (2009). Global patterns of speciation and diversity. Nature 460:384-387.
  • Kaufman LS, Heneman B, Barnes T, Fujita R (2004). Transition from low to high data richness: An experiment in ecosystem-based fishery management from California. Bull. Mar. Sci. 74(3), 693-708.
  • Ojwang WO, Kaufman L, Asila AA, Agembe S, Michener B (2004). Isotopic evidence of functional overlap amongst the resilient pelagic fishes of Lake Victoria, Kenya. Hydrobiologia 529, 27-35.
  • Kaufman, L, Schwartz J (2002). Nile perch population dynamics in Lake Victoria: implications for management and conservation. In: Ruth, M and J Lindholm (Eds.). Dynamic Modeling for Marine Conservation. Springer-Verlag, New York. p. 257-313.
  • Kaufman, LS. (1992). Catastrophic change in species-rich freshwater ecosystems, the lessons of Lake Victoria. Bioscience 42, 846.

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