Matt Edwards

Department of Biology
Professor, Biology

Office/Lab: SDSU Main Campus, Life Science North 204B/209
Phone: 619-594-7049 (office)/619-594-0114 (lab)

Marine Plant Ecology Lab


I am interested in the causes and consequences of variability in biological communities.  My research focuses on patterns of variation in giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests at multiple spatial and temporal scales throughout the species’ geographic range in the Northeast Pacific Ocean.  As part of my research program, I have been examining the relative importance of numerous physical and biological factors in the structuring of kelp forest communities, as well as how these factors modify interactions among co-occurring species, with particular emphasis on large-scale phenomena (such as El Niño Southern Oscillations and global climate change).

A second focus of my research program has been to examine how opportunistic marine algae maintain populations in spatially and temporally heterogeneous environments, with particular attention on the role of dormant microscopic life-history stages.  My future research plans involve continuing to assess the causes and consequences of variation in kelp forests while attempting to assess how different life-history traits allow some species to either take advantage of or buffer against variation in environmental conditions.  By examining these processes at multiple scales over large geographic areas and long time periods, I hope my research will ultimately offer insights into the issue of generality, an often contentious but poorly understood issue in ecology.

I believe one of the fundamental goals in ecology is to explain temporal and spatial patterns in organism abundance and distribution. This encompasses a broad range of questions with the ultimate goal of understanding how populations and communities function in order to sustainably use and preserve them. My research focuses on five primary areas related to this charge:

  1. Assessing the causes and consequences of variability in coastal marine
    communities at multiple spatial and temporal scales.
  2. Identifying the relative contribution of various biological and physical
    factors to the structuring of these communities.
  3. Determining how different life-history traits allow populations to
    take advantage of or buffer against environmental variability.
  4. Developing and expanding on experimental and statistical methods that
    facilitate the study of organisms in the field.
  5. Assessing regional and local patterns of biodiversity in coastal marine

What unites these topics is the integration of organism demography and ecology with aspects of the physical and biological environment, and the use of numerous experimental and statistical approaches to discern the relative contribution of different environmental factors to the maintenance of coastal marine communities. I believe that a sound conceptual understanding of how organisms respond to their environment is fundamental to building a comprehensive research program in coastal marine ecology and to the progress of ecology in general.

I am strongly committed to teaching, both inside and outside the classroom. Regardless of personal views on teaching practices, I believe one thing to be universally true; students learn better when they are generally interested in the subject matter they are presented. While the ultimate responsibility for learning lies with the students themselves, I believe that we as educators can play a substantial role in generating enthusiasm in our students for the curricula we teach. This may be especially true for upper division and graduate level classes. In addition to formal classroom education, I believe that “hands-on” experience in the field is a tremendous avenue for teaching. Therefore, I have endeavored to bring as many undergraduate students as possible with me to the field to assist with my research. I have taken more than 100 graduate and undergraduate students to Baja California and on local trips to the San Diego area to study the kelp forest communities. While in the field, we routinely discuss aspects of coastal marine ecology, the outcomes and interpretations of scientific studies, and larger picture ideas concerning coastal marine ecology. It has been my experience that the students are generally enthusiastic about discussing these matters when they are immersed in field studies. My goals are to further increase undergraduate and graduate student participation in these activities at SDSU and ultimately develop a course on the ecology and natural history of Baja California. I have also brought ten undergraduate students into my lab to assist my graduate students and me with laboratory and fieldwork. The classes I teach are an integral part of undergraduate training for the Marine Biology Emphasis. Click on the links below to download the most recent syllabus to these courses.

Biology of the Algae (Biology 514) covers topics on seaweed and marine plant taxonomy, reproduction, evolution, thallus structure, ecology and biogeography. It has a strong laboratory component where students work with both live and prepared specimens to learn about seaweed thallus structure and taxonomy. It also has a strong field component where students are required to attend field trips to local beaches to learn about seaweed biogeography first hand. I lead one overnight trip to central California where students are exposed to larger issues concerning seaweed biogeography.

Univariate Statistical Methodology (Biology 597A) is a graduate-level biostatistics course that takes an in-depth look at statistical methodology, theory and application. Students in this course are taught probability theory as it relates to statistical hypothesis testing, data graphing, and a host of the most commonly used statistical procedures. This course relies heavily on a hands-on approach using computers. This class is designed to equip our students with the theoretical background and the applied knowledge to design and analyze most data sets in biology.

Life in the Sea (Biology 324) is an important course in our department that is aimed at non-Bio9logy majors and is perhaps the only avenue that these students have to gain experience with marine ecosystems. It is primarily a lecture course that covers nomenclature, taxonomy, theory and current research in marine ecosystems.

Ecology and the Environment (Biology 354) is an important course for our Biology majors that informs students about aspects of community and population ecology. We cover topics ranging from the nature of communities, nutrient cycling, primary and secondary production, global climate change, and human impacts on the environment.

Seminar in Aquatic Ecology (Biology 600) is a graduate seminar that changes topics each tim it is taught. Recent topics attempted to define what environmental catastrophes are from ecological, social, economic, and political biases. Future topics will introduce graduate students to theory and progress in ecological thinking and require students to familiarize themselves with historical ground-breaking papers in ecology.

Shukla, P. & Edwards, M. (2017) Elevated pCO2 is less detrimental than increased temperature to early development of the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera (Phaeophyceae, Laminariales). Phycologia Volume 56 (6), 638–648.

Krumhansl, K. A., Okamoto, D. K., Rassweiler, A., Novak, M., Bolton, J. J., Cavanaugh, K. C., Edwards, M.S. ….& Micheli, F. (2016). Global patterns of kelp forest change over the past half-century. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(48), 13785-13790.

Drobnitch, S. T., Nickols, K., & Edwards, M. (2016). Abiotic influences on bicarbonate use in the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, in the Monterey Bay. Journal of Phycology.

Kim, J. H., Kang, E. J., Edwards, M. S., Lee, K., Jeong, H. J., & Kim, K. Y. (2016). Species-specific responses of temperate macroalgae with different photosynthetic strategies to ocean acidification: a mesocosm study. Algae, 31(3), 243-256.

Morris, M. M., Haggerty J. M., Papudeshi, B. N., Vega, A. A., Edwards, M. S., Dinsdale, E. A. (2016). Nearshore Pelagic Microbial Community Abundance Affects Recruitment Success of Giant Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera. Frontiers in Microbiology.

Borras-Chavez, R., Edwards, M. S., Arvizu-Higuera, D. L., Rodríguez-Montesinos, Y. E., Hernández-Carmona, G., & Briceño-Domínguez, D. (2016). Repetitive harvesting of Macrocystis pyrifera (Phaeophyceae) and its effects on chemical constituents of economic value. Botanica Marina, 59(1), 63-71.

Kim, JH, E.J. Kang, K. Kim, H.J. Jeong, L. Kitack, M.S. Edwards, M.G. Park, BG. Lee, and K.Y. Kim (2015). Evaluation of carbon flux in vegetative bay based on ecosystem production and CO2 exchange driven by coastal autotrophs. Algae 30: 121-137.

Konar, B.K., M.S. Edwards and T. Efird (2015). Local habitat and regional oceanographic influence on fish distribution patterns in the diminishing kelp forests across the Aleutian Archipelago. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 98: 1935-1951.

Forrest, M.J., M.S. Edwards, R. Rivera and J.R. Jaeger (2015). High prevalence and seasonal persistence of amphibian chytrid fungus infections in the desert-dwelling Amargosa toad, Anaxyrus nelson. Herpetological Conservation and Biology.

Brown, M.B., M.S. Edwards and K.Y. Kim (2014). Effects of climate change on the physiology of giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, and grazing by purple urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Algae, 29: 203-215.

Scott Gabara (Ph.D.)

Research Interests: Kelp forest ecology, rhodolith bed ecology, importance of algal subsidies to kelp forest and adjacent food webs, trophic ecology of predators, Stable Isotope Analysis (SIA)

Dissertation topic: Understanding and comparing dynamics across latitude in Aleutian, Central/Southern California, and Baja California, Mexico urchin barrens.



Sadie Small (M.S.)

B.S. Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, University of California, San Diego

Research Interests: Phycology, biogeography, marine invasions

Thesis topic: Influence of abiotic factors on growth, photosynthesis, and reproduction in the invasive alga Sargassum horneri.


Pike Spector (M.S.)

B.S. Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Research Interests: nearshore community ecology, ecosystem producivity and function, phycology, algae physiology, community responses to climate change, outreach and education

Thesis topic: Differences in net ecosystem productivity between kelp forests and urchin barrens – variation across a latitudinal gradient.


Melissa Ward (Ph.D.)*

B.S. Biology, University of California, Irvine

Research Interests: Marine carbon cycling, coastal oceanography, seagrass ecology

Dissertation topic: Contribution of coastal biota in the reduction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.


*Co-advised with Walter Oechel