Rebecca Asch

Associate Professor

Life Sciences & Biotechnology Building 3417


  • Post-Doctoral Research, Princeton University, Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, 2013-2016
  • Ph.D., Biological Oceanography, University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 2013
  • M.S., Biological Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography, 2006
  • B.A., Anthropology, Smith College, 2000

Research Interests

As a fisheries oceanographer, my goal is to conduct research that will advance our understanding of how climate change affects fish populations and provide knowledge for the effective management of living marine resources.  More specifically, my recent research has focused principally on the phenology of fish reproduction.  Phenology refers to the study of seasonal, biological cycles and how they are influenced by weather and climate.  In many ecosystems, warming temperatures are causing phenological events to occur earlier in the year.  However, temperature sensitivity varies across marine organisms, such that seasonal events that previously occurred synchronously are likely to become decoupled under climate change.  In many marine ecosystems, fishes time reproduction to coincide with plankton blooms.  Since zooplankton are the primary prey of fish larvae, greater asynchrony between these events could lead to increased larval fish mortality, slower growth, reduced recruitment of young fishes to fisheries, and declining commercial and recreational catches.  Research in the Asch Fisheries Oceanography Lab addresses this issue by investigating historical and future changes in phytoplankton, zooplankton, and fish phenology using long-term oceanographic time series, remote sensing, and Earth System Models.

More specifically, ongoing research projects in the Asch Lab focus on the following objectives:

  1. Developing and refining global models of projected changes in the phenology of plankton blooms and fish reproduction under different climate change scenarios.
  2. Investigating how the geographic distribution and phenology of spawning aggregations of reef fishes (e.g., groupers and snappers) will shift under future projections of climate change.
  3. Partnering with NOAA to expand a 30-year ichthyoplankton monitoring program in North Carolina to improve our understanding how ecological and oceanic conditions influence the abundance, distribution, phenology, and recruitment of economically important fishes and their plankton prey.

This research program addresses issues key to understanding climate-organismal interactions because changes in phenology are considered one of the main “fingerprints” of climate change effects on global ecosystems.  Compared to terrestrial organisms, there has been a dearth of research on phenological change among marine taxa, which is problematic since several studies indicate that marine organisms are responding to climate change by shifting their phenology more rapidly than terrestrial organisms.  Also, many of the organisms studied by the Asch Fisheries Oceanography Lab are of economic interest, since ex vessel landings of commercial fisheries in North Carolina generate nearly $100 million per year.

In addition to the Asch Lab’s current focus on fish phenology, Dr. Asch has previously conducted research investigating:

  • The influence of oceanic variables (e.g., sea surface height, temperature, salinity, geostrophic currents, chlorophyll concentration, zooplankton volume) on the spawning habitat of forage fishes
  • The impact of bottom fishing and fishery closures on the abundance of juvenile, demersal fishes and invertebrate megafauna
  • Ingestion of plastic microdebris by mesopelagic fishes in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre
  • The effect of ocean acidification on otolith (i.e., ear bone) development in fish larvae
  • Quantification of uncertainty in future projections of climate impacts on living marine resources


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