Just Cebrian, Ph.D.

Just Cebrian, Ph.D.

Senior Marine Scientist III

Professor, University of South Alabama Ph.D., 1996 Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (Spain)


Dr. Just Cebrian is a broadly trained ecologist working with a variety of topics that revolve around coastal system diversity and functionality.  His research strives to improve our understanding of how diverse coastal ecosystems function so we can have solid foundations to better manage these ecosystems and maintain a more resilient world.   His work expands over many types of coastal systems, including marshes, mangroves, sediment flats, oyster reefs, algal beds, and seagrass meadows in several areas around the world. During his career Dr. Cebrian has studied how anthropogenic stressors influence ecosystem diversity and functionality, such as pollution, coastal deforestation, loss of submerged habitat, climate change and, more recently, sea level rise and oil spills. Dr. Cebrian’s research has provided a solid base to understand how coastal ecosystems work under increasing human pressure and, thus, guide management actions such as “smart” (environmentally-friendly) growth, restoration activities, and conservation policies. He has been involved with research intended to improve environmental and economic sustainability in human-developed coastal systems and, thus, has forged strong collaborations with managers, social scientists and resource economists. Dr. Cebrian has also extended his marine research to terrestrial systems mainly via literature compilations.  Thus Dr. Cebrian’s research expands a broad range of aquatic and terrestrial systems, spatial and temporal scales, and approaches (field surveys and comparisons, field and laboratory manipulative experiments, models and literature compilations). 

As of today, Dr. Cebrian has 120 peer-reviewed publications on these topics, many of them in prestigious journals in the field, with a total of 5688 citations and h-index of 35 (28 since 2012).  Some of his publications have received various awards and distinctions, such as the EPA Scientific and Technological Achievement Award, coverage in Commentary and New and Features articles of high-quality journals, and selection as Editor’s Choice.  Dr. Cebrian serve as a Contributing Editor for “Marine Ecology Progress Series”, Academic Editor for “The Public Library of Science ONE”, and Associate Editor for “Estuaries and Coasts” and “Gulf and Caribbean Research”.  He has served on numerous panels and committees for state and federal agencies, NGO’s and watchdog citizen groups.  Most recently he has been appointed as a member of the National Academy of Sciences Gulf Research Program committee on Coastal Zone Dynamics, which is tasked with creating recommendations on long-term sustainable and resilient coastal development in the Gulf of Mexico.  Dr. Cebrian’s work has been supported by a variety of funding agencies, including NSF, NOAA, EPA, USGS, USACE, Sea Grant, various State and Federal programs, and private foundations.  He has received a number of distinctions, such as the appointment in 2009 as a member of the International Ecology Institute (ECI) funded by the Inter-Research Science Center (the ECI staff is composed of world renowned ecologists); nomination in 2009 as a candidate for the Pew Marine Conservation Fellows Program; and nomination in 2016 for the Ecology Institute Prize awarded by the International Ecology Institute (ECI).

Download Dr. Just Cebrian's CV


1990 B.A. Biology, University of Barcelona
1991 M.S. Oceanology, University of Perpignan
1996 Ph.D. Marine SCiences, University of Politecnica Catalunya


Marine Botany, undergraduate summer
Marine Trophic Processes, graduate
Anthropogenic Effects on Marine Ecosystems, field marine course in Spain

Research Interest

Our work addresses coastal ecosystem function and strives to contribute solutions to real-world management problems. Arguably we marine scientists have a duty, more than ever, to work with environmental managers and help inform their decisions and policies with research.  Our research is broad and cross-disciplinary, including several types of coastal systems (e.g. marshes, mangroves, sediment flats, oyster reefs, algal beds, and seagrass meadows), functional processes (e.g. regulation of system productivity, carbon and nitrogen flow, trophic dynamics and connectivity, redundancy and resilience, and ecosystem services), and both basic and applied research aspects (e.g. models of ecosystem dynamics, patterns of carbon dynamics among ecosystems, impacts of urbanization on costal ecosystems, cost-effective restoration practices, and social and economic feedbacks with habitat coastal restoration).

The breadth of our publications can be seen in the range of journals where they have been published.  It includes papers from physiological studies at the individual level to ecosystem-wide studies; from theoretical work to management applications; and from ecological to social to economic dimensions. Adding to this diversity of journals is the aquatic-terrestrial meta-analyses we have done and continue to do. The roster of agencies that have funded our work also speak to the diversity of our research. Funding has come from a variety of sources, including NSF, NOAA, EPA, USGS, USACE, Sea Grant, various State and Federal programs, and private foundations. Another corollary is that our research is based on an extensive network of collaborators, including many diverse disciplines (ecologists, hydrologists, oceanographers, biogeochemists, modelers, resource economists, social scientists, environmental planners and regulators, and policy makers).

The following is a list of papers with data sets available for download.

Cebrian J. 1999. Patterns in the fate of production in plant communities. Am. Nat. 154: 449-468.

Cebrian, J. 2002. Variability and control of carbon consumption, export, and accumulation in marine communities. Limnol. Oceanogr. 47: 11-22.

Cebrian, J. and Lartigue, J. 2004. Patterns of herbivory and decomposition in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Ecol. Monogr. 74:237-259

Cebrian, J. 2004. Role of first - order consumers in ecosystem carbon flow Ecology Letters 7: 232-240

Cebrian, J. 2004. Grazing on Benthic Primary Producers. In: Neilson, S.L., G.T. Banta and M.F. Pedersen (eds.). The influence of Primary Producers on Estuarine Cycling. Kluwer, Dordrecht (in press) (eds.): Estuarine nutrient cycling: the influence of primary producers. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Boston, London, pp153-185.


Who We Are

The world is changing and is bound to continue to change.  At the heart of this change are us. We humans impact the environment with numerous activities.  One of the most affected environments are coastal systems, since they often concentrate high human populations.  We have a duty to manage these impacts with one clear goal in mind: enhance the resiliency of coastal systems to allow for environmentally and economically-sustainable development and resource utilization.

Our lab does research aimed at improving our understanding of coastal environmental resiliency. We study human impacts on the functioning and ecosystem services of coastal systems.  In doing this, we reach out to managers and regulators to help develop policies of sustainable development. Our research is interdisciplinary, combining diverse expertise and approaches, and strives to help provide real solutions to real problems.

Current Personnel

Joshua Goff, Senior Technician/Lab Manager

After graduating with my BS from the University of South Alabama in 2005, I came to work as an intern at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. My primary job is to manage our current projects and databases while supervising/assisting graduate students with their work. While I do not have a specific topic on which I research, I am very interested in utilizing satellite and aerial based mapping products to conduct analyses of SAV, mashes, and shoreline movement over large spatial scales. Learning about these products has shown that with the right tools and knowledge, a small team of researchers can effectively manage large areas of the coast while advising academic, public, and private sector parties using data that is continuously updated and analyzed.

Erin Cox, Post Doctoral Researcher

I am a post-doctoral researcher. I study human impacts on coastal benthic communities where marine plants are dominant. Much of my work examines how the environment and macrophyte physiology influences species interactions at the community level. I received my PhD in 2011 from the University of Hawaii. Prior to my arrival at Dauphin Island, I was a researcher on project eFOCE (European Free Ocean Carbon Dioxide Enrichment, efoce.eu) which determined in situ the impact of ocean acidification on seagrass meadows in the Mediterranean Sea. I also have expertise on the impacts of storm drain runoff, elevated temperature, and high irradiance on algal physiology and tropical, intertidal reef ecology. My current project at the Sea Lab will focus on quantifying the primary productivity of artificial reefs and determine how much productivity is transferred to higher trophic levels to support fish communities.

Ashley McDonald, PhD candidate

As a coastal ecologist, my research and field experience has centered on the natural and anthropogenically induced stressors affecting the communities that thrive where the land’s edge meets the sea. My interests lie with how certain marsh and seagrass species’ individual clones respond to natural stressors and how these responses are propagated up the rhizomally-connected hierarchy to affect a coastal community in its entirety. Furthermore, the management of these vital communities is shifting due to predictions for future climate change scenarios that will add further stressors and lead to changes in community behavior. My research goals are to determine the current and future dominant stressors for these communities, and with this knowledge be able to predict how a community may respond so that a personalized management tactic can be instituted.

Caitlin Wessel, PhD candidate

Before coming to Dauphin Island to begin work on my PhD, I received my Master’s degree from Coastal Carolina after which I spent two years teaching.  My current research focuses on marine debris in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, specifically how abundance and distribution affects the environment, human health, and the economy.  To advance this area of study, I hope to partner with other agencies to explore and refine programs that track marine debris along the barrier island, quantify associated pollutants, and create tools to aid in the removal from the ecosystem.

Aaron Macy, PhD student

I received my B.S. in Oceanography from Florida Tech in fall 2011, and after a few field research positions in the Bering Sea, Shark Bay (W. Australia), and Dauphin Island, I decided how far I wanted to go down the rabbit hole. As of fall 2013, I am pursuing a Ph. D. in marine sciences. My research involves the range expansion of black mangrove into more northern locations with global climate change. My primary interest lies in ecosystem engineering species like mangroves that dramatically alter the physiochemical structure of their environment and what interactions arise between their community and connected ecosystems.

Laura West, PhD student

I earned my B.S. in Biology from Gordon State College before coming to the Cebrian lab in fall 2014. I am interested in the dynamics of the Gulf’s rich coastal ecosystems, especially seagrass beds and marshes, and how their roles and services differ across the northern Gulf of Mexico. I chose this lab because of its central tenets: that life is about growth and resiliency, and keeping yourself open to opportunity.

Jamie Amato, MS student

I am from New Orleans, Louisiana, and I received my BS in Natural Resource Ecology and Management from Louisiana State University in Spring of 2016. I am currently pursuing my MS degree researching the benefits of living shorelines. I will be working closely with private landowners and state agencies to test the efficacy of these shorelines and to promote their design.  I am very interested in discovering different techniques used to create coastal habitat. I enjoy seeing the progress that comes out of these restoration projects over time and the ecosystem services that they provide. I am striving to eventually have a career in coastal restoration by building and researching these essential environments.


Emory Wellman
Andrew Moorhead
Adam Chastan 

Past Personnel

Graduate Students

  • Shailesh Sharma, PhD in Marine Science (University of South Alabama), 2016. Restored oyster reefs: Potential impacts on water quality, submerged aquatic vegetation, saltmarsh flora and associated organisms

  • Rachel Gamble, MS in Marine Science (University of South Alabama), 2014.  Fish and macroinvertebrate communities in shallow coastal waters of the Northern Gulf of Mexico:  a comparison among lagoons with varying seagrass cover

  • Eric Sparks, PhD in Marine Science (University of South Alabama), 2014.  Restoration effectiveness, nutrient filtration, and grazing in Juncus roemerianus (black needlesrush) marshes

  • Bart Christiaen, PhD in Marine Science (University of South Alabama), 2013.  Natural and human drivers of seagrass ecosystems:  detection, impact, and restoration

  • Kate Sheehan, MS in Marine Science (University of South Alabama), 2008. Associations between environmental factors and grass shrimp parasites in coastal Alabama.

  • Andrea Anton, MS in Marine Sciences (University of South Alabama), 2007. The effects of eutrofication on the ecosystem services provided by seagrass meadows

  • Jason Stutes, Ph.D. in Marine Sciences (University of South Alabama), 2007. Seagrass (Halodule wrightii) communities of the Northwest Gulf of Mexico: Differences in production dynamics and primary consumption across a gradient of human impact

  • Amy Hunter, Ph.D. in Marine Sciences (University of Alabama), 2005. Effects of human induced nutrient enrichment (anthropogenic eutrophication) on the carbon cycle of marshes dominated by black needlerush, Juncus roemerianus.

  • Adrienne L. Dunsmuir (now A. L. Stutes), MS in Marine Sciences (University of South Alabama), 2004. Effects of simulated anthropogenic eutrophication on the primary production and metabolism of estuarine microphytobenthic community

  • Alina A. Corcoran, MS in Biology (University of Alabama), 2004. The effects of ultraviolet-B radiation and sediment nutrient enrichment on benthic microalgal communities in shallow coastal lagoons of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

Post Docs

  • Celine Lafabrie, University of Corsica, 2007-2009

  • Yushun Chen, West Virginia University, 2009

  • Ryan Moody, U. of South Alabama, 2009-2012

  • Glenn Miller,  U. of South Alabama, 2011-2012

  • Diana Montemayor, U. Mar del Plata, 2013

REU Program Students

  • Madison McBarnes:  2015 - Kalamazoo College.  Temporal variability in marine debris accumulation rates on Dauphin Island, AL.

  • Jennifer Himmelstein: 2007 - University of Maryland. The influence of the trematode parasite Microphallus turgidus on the predator avoidance, predator choice, and digestion of the common grass shrimp Palaemonetes pugio.

  • Kelsey Pickard: 2006 - Colorado College. Effects of short-term shading and sediment fertilization on seagrass growth and density.

  • Amy Adcox: 2004 - University of South Florida. Flowering dynamics in two Thalassia testudinum populations.

  • Dustin Addis: 2003 - Auburn University. The effects UVB radiation on benthic microalgae

  • Nicole Morris: 2003- Jacksonville State University. The effects of nutrient additions on the growth dynamics of two salt pan species, Distichlis spicata and Salicornia bigelovii, in coastal Alabama

  • Todd Clardy: 2001- Troy University. The effects of short-term fertilization and shading on shoalgrass production. 

  • Glenn Miller: 2000 - University of Alabama. The effects of seagrass loss on associated fish populations

Interns and Technicians

  • Adrienne Silver (Intern) 2016

  • Nick Moreno (Intern) 2016

  • Guillermo Martin (ARGO Internship) 2016

  • Shepsu Ta-neter (HS observer) 2016

  • Nate Snyder (Intern) 2016

  • Theresa Gruninger (Intern) 2016

  • Lauren Willis (Intern) 2015-2016

  • Kevin Travis (Intern) 2015

  • Pau Sanchez (HS Intern) 2015

  • Griffin Williams (Intern) 2015

  • Hannah Ehrmann (Intern) 2015

  • Eli Waddel (Intern) 2015

  • Juan Miquel Ferrero (Intern) 2014, 2015

  • Joshua Hulsey (Intern) 2014

  • Beth Tuttle (HS Intern) 2012, 2013

  • Abby Lunstrum (Intern) 2013

  • Matt Murray (Intern) 2012

  • Maggie Cooper (HS Intern) 2012

  • Caitlin Linder (Intern) 2011-2012

  • Justin McDonald (Intern/Tech) 2011-2012

  • Jessica Gulbranson (FIT Tech) 2011-2012

  • Aaron Macy (FIT Tech) 2011-12

  • Jelani Reynolds (FIT Tech) 2011-2012

  • Jennifer Hemphill (FIT Tech) 2011-2012

  • Amy Langston (Intern) 2011

  • Hannah Phillips (Intern) 2011

  • Lauren Schumacher (Intern/Tech) 2011-2012

  • Matt Metcaf (Intern) 2011

  • Katherine Hovanes (Intern) 2010

  • Lindsay Biermann (DISL/FIT Tech) 2010-2011

  • Sara Kerner (DISL/FIT Tech) 2010-2011

  • Jenessa Kay (Technician) 2010-2011

  • Kellen Watson (Intern) 2010

  • Jason Howard (Intern) 2010

  • Rachel Gamble (Fall Intern)2009

  • Amber Schat (Summer Intern) 2009

  • Loren Marino (Intern) 2008-2009

  • Lynn Moore (Intern/Technician) 2008-2010

  • Ashley McDonald (Fall Intern) 2008

  • Sybil Glenos (Summer Intern) 2008

  • Matthew Merrill (High School Intern) 2008

  • Nate Lemoine (Exxon Intern) 2007 

  • David "Paddy" Patterson (Full-time Tech) 2004-2005 

  • Mary-Elizabeth "Mairi" Miller (Full-time Tech) 2004-2005 

  • Katy Blankenhorn: (Part-time Tech) 2004

  • Craig Newton: (Part-time Tech) 2001-2002 

  • Beth Klees: (Exxon Intern and Part-Time Tech) 2002

  • Cassius Fishbein (High School Intern) 2002, 2003 

  • Reid Carter (High School Intern) 2003 

  • Chris Legget (High School Intern) 2003 

  • Bug Illiff (High School Intern)2001

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