Rebecca Asch

Rebecca G. Asch

Title: Assistant Professor
Area of Study: Fisheries Oceanography, Global Change Biology, Earth System Modeling
Phone: (252) 328-6307
Fax: (252) 328-4178
Office: S408 Howell Science Complex
Address: East Carolina University
Department of Biology
Howell Science Complex
Mailstop 551
Greenville, NC 27858


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
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Research Interests:

As a fisheries oceanographer, my career 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 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.     Developing a local ichthyoplankton monitoring network in North Carolina to improve our understanding how ecological and oceanic conditions influence the abundance, distribution, phenology, and recruitment of economically important fishes.


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 some 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 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


All publications are available via Google Scholar and Research Gate.


Friedland, K.D., C.B. Mouw, R.G. Asch, A.S.A. Ferreira, S. Henson, K.J.W. Hyde, R.E. Morse, A.C. Thomas and D.C. Brady. 2018. Phenology and time series trends of the dominant seasonal phytoplankton bloom across global scales. Global Ecology and Biogeography doi:10.1111/geb.12717.

Asch, R.G., W.W.L. Cheung and G. Reygondeau. 2017. Future marine ecosystem drivers, biodiversity, and fisheries maximum catch potential in Pacific Island Nations under climate change. Marine Policy doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2017.08.015


Lynch, A.J., R.G. Asch, W.W.L. Cheung, C.P. Paukert, R.R. Rykaczewski and W.H.H. Sauer. 2017. Editorial. Impacts of climate change on marine and inland fishes and fisheries: looking back and moving forward. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 27(2): 293-296. doi:10.1007/s11160-017-9483-0.


Singh, G.G., A.M. Cisneros-Montemayor, W. Swartz, W. Cheung, J.A. Guy, T.-A. Kenny, C.J. McOwen, R. Asch, J.L. Geffert, C.C.C. Wabnitz, R. Sumaila, Q. Hanich and Y. Ota. 2017. A rapid assessment of co-benefits and trade-offs among sustainable development goals. Marine Policy doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2017.05.030.


Checkley, D.M., R.G. Asch and R.R. Rykaczewski. 2017. Climate, anchovy, and sardine. Annual Review in Marine Science 9: 469-493. doi:10.1146/annurev-marine-122414-033819.


Stock, C.A., J.G. John, R.R. Rykaczewski, R.G. Asch, W.W.L., Cheung, J.P. Dunne, K.D. Friedland, V.W.Y. Lam, J.L. Sarmiento and R.A. Watson. 2017. Reconciling fisheries catch and ocean productivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(8): E1441-E1449. doi:10.1073/pnas.1610238114.


Tommasi, D., C.A. Stock, A.J. Hobday, R. Methot, I.C. Kaplan, P.J. Eveson, K. Holsman, T.J. Miller, S. Gaichas, M. Gehlen, A. Pershing, G.A. Vecchi, R. Msadek, T. Delworth, C.M. Eakin, M.A. Haltuch, R. Séférian, C.M. Spillman, J.R. Hartog, S. Siedlecki, J.F. Samhouri, B. Muhling, R.G. Asch, M.L. Pinsky, V.S. Saba, S.B. Kapnick, C.F. Gaitan, R.R. Rykaczewski, M.A. Alexander, Y. Xue, K.V. Pegion, P. Lynch, M.R. Payne, T. Kristiansen, P. Lehodey and F.E. Werner. 2017. Managing living marine resources in a dynamic environment: the role of seasonal to decadal climate forecasts. Progress in Oceanography 152: 15-49. doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2016.12.011.

Asch, R.G., D.J. Pilcher, S. Rivero-Calle and J.M. Holding. 2016. Demystifying models: Answers to ten common questions that ecologists have about Earth System Models. Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin 25(3): 65-70. doi:10.1002/lob.10113.


Cheung, W.W.L., R.G. Asch, T.L. Frölicher, G. Reygondeau, M. Jones, M.L. Pinsky, K.B. Rodgers, R.R. Rykaczewski, J.L. Sarmiento, C. Stock and J.R. Watson. 2016. Building confidence in projections of the responses of living marine resources to climate change. ICES Journal of Marine Science 73(5): 1283-1296. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsv250.


Coble, A.A., R.G. Asch, S. Rivero-Calle, S.M. Heerhartz, J.M. Holding, C.T. Kremer, M. Finiguerra and K.E. Strock. 2016. Climate is variable, but is our science? Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin 25(3): 71-76. doi:10.1002/lob.10115.


Friedland, K.D., N.R. Record, R.G. Asch, T. Kristiansen, V.S. Saba, K. Drinkwater, S. Henson, R.T. Leaf, R.E. Morse, D.G. Johns, S.I. Large, S.S. Hjøllo, J.A. Nye, M.A. Alexander and R. Ji. 2016. Seasonal plankton blooms in the North Atlantic linked to the overwintering strategies of copepods. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 4:000099 doi:101.12952/journal.elementa.000099.


Asch, R.G. 2015.Climate change and decadal shifts in the phenology of larval fishes in the California Current Ecosystem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(30): E4065-E4074. doi:10.1073/pnas.1421946112.


Cheung, W., Y. Ota, W. Swartz, V. Christensen, P. Halpin, J. Sarmiento, C. Stock, C. Folke, H. Österblom, L. Wood, C. McOwen, T. Spencer, M. Bithell, A.O. Eferink, E. Molenaar, R. Asch, A. Boustany, R. Caddell, A. Cisneros-Montemayor, M. Colléter, L. Dellmuth, D. Dunn, T. Frölicher, L. Geffert, N. Henschke, K. Kearney, M. Jones, V. Lam, M. Metian, A. Merrie, M. de Oca, M. Oyinlola, C. Petrik, G. Reygondeau, R. Rykaczewski, P. Underwood, A. Valls and J. Watson. 2015. Predicting Future Oceans. Climate Change, Oceans, and Fisheries. The Nippon Foundation-University of British Columbia Nereus Program, Vancouver, BC. 24 p. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.3492.7444.


Friedland, K.D., R.T. Leaf, J. Kane, D. Tommasi, R.G. Asch, N. Rebuck, R. Ji, S.I. Large, C. Stock and V.S. Saba. 2015. Spring bloom dynamics and zooplankton biomass response on the US Northeast Continental Shelf. Continental Shelf Research102: 47-61. doi:10.1016/j.csr.2015.04.005.


Asch, R.G. and D.M. Checkley, Jr. 2013. Dynamic height: A key variable for identifying the spawning habitat of small pelagic fishes. Deep-Sea Research Part I 71: 79-91.doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2012.08.006.


Asch, R. 2013. Phenology in the California Current Ecosystem: CalCOFI and beyond. p. 211-213. In: Regional Fisheries Oceanography of the California Current System. The CalCOFI Program. S. McClatchie. Springer, New York, NY.


Davison, P. and R.G. Asch. 2011. Plastic ingestion by mesopelagic fishes in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Marine Ecology Progress Series 432: 173-180. doi:10.3354/meps09142.


Checkley, Jr., D.M., A.G. Dickson, M. Takahashi, J.A. Radich, N. Eisenkolb and R. Asch. 2009. Elevated CO2 enhances otolith growth in young fish. Science 324: 1683. doi:10.1126/science.1169806.


Asch, R.G. and J.S. Collie. 2008.Changes in a benthic megafaunal community due to disturbance from bottom fishing and the establishment of a fishery closure. Fishery Bulletin 106(4): 438-456.


Bullard, S.G., G. Lambert, M.R. Carman, J. Byrnes, R.B. Whitlatch, G. Ruiz, R.J. Miller, L. Harris, P.C. Valentine, J.S. Collie, J. Pederson, D.C. McNaught, A.N. Cohen, R.G. Asch, J. Dijkstra and K. Heinonen. 2007. The colonial ascidian Didemnum sp.: current distribution, basic biology, and potential threat to marine communities of the northeast and west coasts of North America. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 342(1): 99-108. doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2006.10.020.


Valentine, P.C., J.S. Collie, R.N. Reid, R.G. Asch, V.G. Guida and D.S. Blackwood. 2007. The occurrence of the colonial ascidian Didemnum sp. on Georges Bank gravel habitat — ecological observations and potential effects on groundfish and scallop fisheries. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 342(1): 179-181. doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2006.10.038.


Asch, R.G. and D.D. Turgeon. 2003. Detection of gaps in the spatial coverage of coral reef monitoring projects in the U.S. Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Tropical Biology 51(Supl. 4): 127-140.


Turgeon, D.D. and R.G. Asch. 2002. National summary. In: The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2002. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Ocean Service/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Silver Spring, MD. 265 p.

Courses Taught:

Introduction to Marine Biology (BIOL 3660)

Ecological Dimensions of Coastal Management (BIOL 7320)

Prospective Students:

Masters and Ph.D. students:  Dr. Asch is currently recruiting new Masters and Ph.D. students to join her research group for the 2018-2019 academic year.  I seek students who are highly self-motivated, independent, and creative thinkers that are enthusiastic about pursuing a career in marine ecology, oceanography, and/or fisheries management.  Prospective students interested in either the ecological modeling or coastal fieldwork aspects of my research program are welcome.  A strong background in quantitative ecology, computer programming, and/or statistics is desired, but not required.  There are several areas of my current and future research in which a Masters or Ph.D. student could become involved, but I also encourage students to approach me with their own research ideas that could be developed into a thesis or dissertation.  Doctoral students can apply to work in my lab either through the Coastal Resources Management (CRM) Program or the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Biological Sciences (IDPBS).


Prospective students should contact Dr. Asch via email.  This email should include a brief statement describing your research interests, a resume or C.V., and an unofficial academic transcript.

Current Graduate Students:

 Undergraduate Research Assistants:

Summer 2017: Joseph Alvarez

Fall 2017: Megan Fallows, Martina Plafcan, Kate Walker