Dr Kerry Howell

Dr Kerry Howell

Associate Professor (Reader) in Marine Ecology

School of Marine Science and Engineering (Faculty of Science and Engineering)


I am programme leader for the Marine Biology and Oceanography degree course at Plymouth University http://www1.plymouth.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/2055/Pages/CourseOverview.aspx. I am also an active academic researcher working on various topics related to conservation and sustainable management of the deep sea and High Seas http://www1.plymouth.ac.uk/research/mberc/Research/Marine%20resource%20management/Pages/Deep-sea.aspx, and marine habitat mapping  http://www1.plymouth.ac.uk/research/mberc/Research/Marine%20resource%20management/Pages/Habitat-mapping.aspx 

Roles on external bodies

Member of the ICES Working Group on Deep-water Ecology (WGDEC)

Research interests

My primary research interests are in the field of deep-sea ecology, conservation and sustainable management. I have expertise in the design of high seas / deep-sea marine protected area networks, habitat classification, habitat mapping, predictive species modelling, population connectivity, deep-sea food webs and ecosystem impacts of deep-water fisheries. See our group website www.deepseacru.org for more details.

Marine habitat mapping is a critical part of moving toward our sustainable use of the marine environment. The European Commission recognises habitat mapping as providing new opportunities for blue growth and jobs in seas and oceans, and has proposed the creation of a digital seabed map of European waters by 2020 (see http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/damanaki/headlines/press-releases/2012/08/20120829-1_en.htm). Our research will contribute to these efforts through: 1) developing novel techniques for mapping benthic biology at both broad and fine scales, 2) working with our European partners to develop the EUNIS habitat classification system such that it can adequately represent deep-sea biodiversity.

Current Projects
Mapping the Deep
The 'Mapping the deep' project will tackle the principle cause of destruction of the UK's cold water coral reefs, coral gardens and other vulnerable habitats (that is destruction caused by contact with bottom trawl gear), by providing maps of their distribution in order that appropriate protection measures such as the creation of marine protected areas, can be taken. These habitat maps will be created using predictive modelling approaches coupled with traditional habitat mapping methods. For more information on this project see:

Influence of population connectivity on depth-dependent diversity of deep-sea marine benthic biota.
Knowledge of how populations are connected is central to our understanding of population persistence, isolation, divergence, speciation and radiation. The bathyal region has been identified as the primary site of adaptive radiation in the deep-sea from molecular and morphological studies and is also where the peak in species diversity occurs in many ocean basins. Gene-flow is low over the depth gradient suggesting limited larval exchange occurs in the vertical. Recent research has suggested that larval dispersal potential may vary with depth. This variation, given the limited vertical exchange, may provide a mechanism for population isolation, divergence and speciation in the bathyal region. This study will adopt a multidisciplinary approach to investigate connectivity among deep-sea populations at different depths and spatial scales using: 1) larval dispersal modelling using Lagrangian particle tracking, driven by hydrographic models 2) population genetics/genomics and 3) benthic community analysis, using examples of sessile (scleractinian corals) and limited mobility (echinoid) species as test subjects. We will examine changes in larval dispersal, gene-flow, gene expression and community and taxonomic patterns with depth to identify possible variation in population connectivity down the vertical gradient. We will also examine patterns of connectivity at different spatial scales. Critically we will investigate whether the changes in connectivity from the shelf break to bathyal depths are correlated to current flow as predicted by hydrodynamic models and whether this physical mechanism significantly contributes to current patterns of diversity, potentially driving speciation at large spatial scales or, alternatively, whether other factors are influencing genetic structure.


Other research

Nicola Foster - Influence of population connectivity on depth-dependent diversity of deep-sea marine benthic biota

Research assistants
Otis Brunner - Mapping the Deep
Josh Davison - Physical drivers of deep-sea sponge aggregation distribution

PhD Students  
Rebecca Ross – PhD title “ Investigating the role of offshore banks and seamounts as stepping stones for dispersal to inform the development of an ‘ecologically coherent’ network of deep-sea marine protected areas.” 2012-2016.

Nils Piechaud - PhD title "The application of autonomous underwater vehicles to challenges in marine habitat mapping and predictive species distribution modelling." 2015-2018

Kirsty McQuaid - PhD title "The application of predictive modelling to marine spatial planning associated with deep-sea mining." 2015-2019.

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

Charlotte Marshall - PhD title "Species distribution modelling to support marine conservation planning" 2011
Jaime Davies - PhD title "Mapping Deep-Sea Features in UK Waters For Use in Marine Protected Area Network Design" 2011
Rebecca Jefferson - PhD title "Communicating Marine Environmental Health: Connecting Science, Social and Policy Values" 2010 

Research groups

  • Marine Biology & Ecology Research Centre (MBERC)

  • Peer Reviewed

  • Piechaud, N., Downie, A., Stewart, H. A., & Howell, K. L. (2015). The impact of modelling method selection on predicted extent and distribution of deep-sea benthic assemblages. Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 105(04), 251-261

  • Davies JS, Stewart HA, Narayanaswamy BE, Jacobs C, Spicer J, Golding N, Howell, K.L. (2015) Benthic Assemblages of the Anton Dohrn Seamount (NE Atlantic): Defining Deep-Sea Biotopes to Support Habitat Mapping and Management Efforts with a Focus on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0124815. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124815

  • Evans J.L, Peckett F., Howell, K.L. (2015) Combinedapplication of biophysical habitat mapping and systematic conservationplanning to assess efficiency and representativeness of the existing HighSeas MPA network in the Northeast Atlantic. ICES Journal of MarineScience. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsv012

    Hilário A, Metaxas A, Gaudron SM, HowellKL, Mercier A, Mestre NC, Ross RE, Thurnherr AM and Young C (2015) Estimatingdispersal distance in the deep sea: challenges and applications to marinereserves. Frontiers in Marine Science 2:6. doi:10.3389/fmars.2015.00006

    Marshall, C. E., Glegg, G. A., & Howell,K. L. (2014). Species distribution modelling to support marineconservation planning: The next steps. Marine Policy, 45, 330-332.

    Wagstaff, M. C., Howell, K. L., Bett, B. J., Billett, D. S., Brault, S., Stuart, C. T., & Rex, M. A. (2014). β-diversity of deep-sea holothurians and asteroids along a bathymetric gradient (NE Atlantic). Marine Ecology Progress Series, 508, 177-185.

  • Jackson E.L., Davies, A.J., Howell, K.L., Kershaw, P.J., Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2014) Future-proofing marine protected area networks for cold water coral reefs. . ICES Journal of Marine Science. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsu099

    Pham, C.K., Ramirez-Llodra, E., Claudia H.S., Amaro, T., Bergmann, M., Canals, M., Company, J.B., Davies, J.S., Duineveld, G., Galgani, F., Howell, K.L., Huvenne, V.A.I., Isidro, E., Jones, D.O.B., Lastras, G., Morato, T., Gomes-Pereira, J.N., Purser, A., Stewart, H.A., Tojeira, I., Tubau, X., Van Rooij, D., Tyler, P.A. (2014) Marine litter distribution and density in European Seas, from the shelves to deep basins. PLoS ONE 9(4): e95839. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095839

    Howell, K.L., Bullimore, R.D., Foster, N. L. (2014) Quality assurance in the identification of deep sea taxa from video and image analysis: Response to Henry and Roberts. ICES Journal of Marine Science.  doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsu052

    Davies, J. S., Howell, K. L., Stewart, H. A., Guinan, J., Golding, N. (2014) Defining biological assemblages (biotopes) of conservation interest in the submarine canyons of the South West Approaches (offshore United Kingdom) for use in marine habitat mapping. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography. 10.1016/j.dsr2.2014.02.001

    Stewart, H. A., Davies, J. S., Guinan, J. C., and Howell, K. L. (2014) The Dangeard and Explorer Canyons, South Western Approaches UK: Geology, sedimentology and newly discovered cold-water coral mini-mounds. Deep-Sea Res. II. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2013.08.018

    Holt, R.E., Foggo, A., Neat, F., Howell, K.L. (2013) Distribution Patterns and Sexual Segregation in Chimaeras, Implications for Conservation and Management. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 70(6), 1198-1205.

    Foltz, D.W., Fatland, S.D., Eléaume M., Markello, K., Howell, K.L., Neill, K., Mah, C.L. (2013) Global population divergence of the sea star Hippasteria phrygiana corresponds to the onset of the last glacial period of the Pleistocene. Marine Biology.  160(5), 1285-1296.

    Narayanaswamy, B.E., Hughes, D.J., Howell, K.L., Davies, J., Jacobs, C. (2013) First observations of megafaunal communities inhabiting George Bligh Bank, North East Atlantic. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography. 92, 79-86.       

    Foster, N. L., Foggo, A., & Howell, K. L. (2013). Using Species-Area Relationships to Inform Baseline Conservation Targets for the Deep North East Atlantic. PloS one, 8(3), e58941.


    Bullimore, R.D., Foster, N.L., Howell, K.L. (2013) Coral-characterized benthic assemblages of the deep Northeast Atlantic: defining “Coral Gardens” to support future habitat mapping efforts. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 70(3), 511-522.

    Ross., R, Howell, K.L. (2013)  Use of predictive habitat modelling to assess the distribution and extent of the current protection of 'listed' deep-sea habitats. Diversity and Distributions. 19(4), 433-445.

    Galparsoro, I.,  Connor, D.W.,  Borja, A., Aish, A., Amorim, P., Bajjouk, T., Chambers, C., Coggan, R., Dirberg, G., Ellwood, H., Evans, D., Goodin, K.L., Grehan, A., Haldin, J., Howell, K., Jenkins, C., Giulia Mo, M., Buhl-Mortensen, P., Pearce, B., et al. (2012) Using EUNIS habitat classification for benthic mapping in European seas: Present concerns and future needs. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 64, 2630-2638.


    Howell, K.L., Holt, R., Pulido Endrino, I., Stewart, H. (2011) When the species is also a habitat: comparing the predictively modelled distributions of Lophelia pertusa and the reef habitat it forms. Biological Conservation. 144, 2656–2665.

    Heymans, J.J., Howell, K.L., Ayers, M., Burrows, M.T., Gordon, J.D.M., Jones, E.G., Neat, F. (2010) Do we have enough information to apply the ecosystem approach to management of deep-sea fisheries? An example from the West of Scotland. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 68, 265-280.

    Howell, K.L., Mowles S., and Foggo, A. (2010) Mounting evidence: near-slope seamounts are faunally indistinct from an adjacent bank. Marine Ecology. 31, 52-62.

    Howell, K.L. (2010) A benthic classification system to aid in the implementation of marine protected area networks in the deep / high seas of the NE Atlantic. Biological Conservation. 143, 1041–1056.

    Howell, K.L., Davies J.S., and Narayanaswamy, B.E. (2010). Identifying deep-sea megafaunal epibenthic assemblages for use in habitat mapping and marine protected area network design. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 90 , pp 33-68 .

    Tyler, PA, Emson, RH, Sumida, PY, Howell, KL. (2005) Ophiuroid distribution at sublittoral and bathyal depths round the Faroes, NE Atlantic Ocean. In : North-East Atlantic marine benthic organisms in the Faroes-taxonomy, distribution and ecology. Annales Societatis Scientiarium Faeroensis Supp 41, 175-194.

    Howell, K.L., Rogers, A.D., Billett, D.S.M. and Tyler, P.A. (2004) Reproductive isolation among morphotypes of the Atlantic seastar species Zoroaster fulgens (Echinodermata:Asteroidea). Marine Biology 144, 977 – 984.

    Howell, K.L., Billett, D.S.M. and Tyler, P.A. (2004) Feeding ecology of deep-sea seastars (Echinodermata: Asteroidea): a pigment biomarker approach. Marine Ecology Progress Series 266, 103-110.

    Howell, K.L., Pond, D.W., Billett, D.S.M. and Tyler, P.A. (2003) Feeding ecology of deep-sea seastars (Echinodermata: Asteroidea): a fatty acid biomarker approach. Marine Ecology Progress Series 255, 193-206

    Howell, K.L., Billett, D.S.M. and Tyler, P.A. (2002) Depth-related distribution and abundance of seastars (Echinodermata: Asteroidea) in the Porcupine Seabight and Porcupine Abyssal Plain, N.E. Atlantic. Deep-Sea Research I, 49, 1901-1920.


    Cross, T., Howell, K.L., Hughes, E., Seeley, R., 2013. Analysis of seabed imagery from the Hebrides Terrace Seamount. Report to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Report No. 510. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/Report_510_web.pdf

    Howell, K.L., Huvenne, V., Piechaud, N., Roberts, K., Ross, R., 2013. JC060 Data Analysis: Comprising data from Darwin Mounds (NE Rockall Trough), Rockall-Hatton Basin Polygonal Faults, NW Rockall Bank, and E Rockall Bank Escarpment. Report to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Report No. 528 http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/PDF/Report528_web.pdf

    Howell, K.L., Embling, C., Holt, R., Stewart, H.A. (2011) Using predictive modelling to map the distribution of selected habitats listed as MPA search features in Scottish waters. Joint Nature Conservation Committee Report. Unpublished.

    Long, D., Howell, K.L., Davies, J., Stewart, H. (2010) JNCC Offshore Natura survey of Anton Dohrn Seamount and East Rockall Bank Areas of Search. Joint Nature Conservation Committee Report 437, 132p.

    Howell, K.L., Heymans, J.J., Gordon, J.D.M., Duncan, J., Ayers, M., Jones, E.G (2009) DEEPFISH Project: Applying an ecosystem approach to the sustainable management of deep-water fisheries. Part 1: Development of the Ecopath with Ecosim model. Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban. U.K. Report no. 259a. http://www.sams.ac.uk/sheila-heymans/deepfish-1-english

    Howell, K.L., Heymans, J.J., Gordon, J.D.M., Duncan, J., Ayers, M., Jones, E.G (2009) DEEPFISH Project: Applying an ecosystem approach to the sustainable management of deep-water fisheries. Part 2: A new approach to managing deepwater fisheries. Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban. U.K. Report no. 259b.

    Howell, K.L., Davies J.S., Jacobs, C., and Narayanaswamy B.E. (2009). Broadscale Survey of the Habitats of Rockall Bank, and mapping of Annex I ‘Reef’ Habitat. Joint Nature Conservation Committee Report. 165p. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/PDF/jncc422_web.pdf

    Davies, J., Guinan, J., Howell, K., Stewart, H. & Verling, E. (editor) (2008) MESH South West Approaches Canyons Survey (MESH Cruise 01-07-01) Final Report. Mapping European Seabed Habitats (MESH) Project Report. 156p http://www.searchmesh.net/PDF/SWCanyons_FinalReport_v1.4_final.pdf

    Howell, K.L., Davies, J.S., Hughes, D.J., and Narayanaswamy, B.E. (2007). Strategic Environmental Assessment / Special Area for Conservation Photographic Analysis Report. Department of Trade and Industry, Strategic Environmental Assessment Report, UK. 163p.

    Stevens, T.F., Jones, P.J.S., Howell, K, Mee, L, (2006) Methods for managing Marine Protected Areas: options for establishing and managing a marine protected area system in the UK. Report to Natural England. Natural England: Peterborough, UK. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/148796/2/Methods%20for%20managing%20MPAs.pdf 

    Narayanaswamy, B.E., Howell, K.L., Hughes, D.J., Davies, J.S., Roberts, J.M., and Black, K.D. (2006). Strategic Environmental Assessment Area 7 Photographic Analysis Report. Department of Trade and Industry, Strategic Environmental Assessment Report, UK, 179p.

    Connor, D.W., Allen, J.A., Golding, N, Howell, K.L., Lieberknecht, L.M., Northen, K.O. and Reker, J.B. (2004) The Marine Habitat Classification for Britain and Ireland Version 04.05 JNCC, Peterborough. ISBN 1 861 07561 8 (internet version) www.jncc.gov.uk/MarineHabitatClassification