Dr Kerry Howell

Dr Kerry Howell

Associate Professor (Reader) in Marine Ecology

School of Biological & Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science & 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.

Current Projects 

DEEPLINKS - 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.

The application of predictive modelling to marine spatial planning associated with deep-sea mining

The PhD project is focused on informing the development of effective spatial management of the deep sea. Research will focus on a polymetallic nodule-rich area of the Pacific Ocean called the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. We will create broad- and fine-scale models to classify the physical habitat of the area, which will then be validated using biological samples collected in recent years. We will also compare the accuracy of bottom-up and top-down approaches to predictive modelling, and will investigate the accuracy of models transfered to new areas. This work will address several key questions in the spatial management of deep-sea mining.


The application of autonomous underwater vehicles to challenges in marine habitat mapping and predictive species distribution modelling

PhD project aimed at assessing how the biological and oceanographic data provided by autonomous vehicles (AUVs and gliders) can be used for predictive habitat mapping in the deep sea and what advantage these technologies offer compared to other methods used to survey the sea-bed. 

Other research

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

Rebecca Ross - development of a new larval capture tool 

PhD Students  

Nils Piechaud - PhD title "The application ofautonomous underwater vehicles to challenges in marine habitat mapping andpredictive species distribution modelling." 2015-2018


Kirsty McQuaid - PhDtitle "The application of predictive modelling to marine spatial planningassociated with deep-sea mining." 2015-2019.


Masters students

Joseph Augier  - Incorporating backscatter into predictivehabitat mapping.


Research degrees awarded to supervised students

RebeccaRoss - PhD title " Investigatingthe role of larval dispersal models in the development of an 'ecologicallycoherent' network of deep sea marine protected areas” 2016

CharlotteMarshall - PhD title "Species distribution modelling to support marineconservation planning" 2011


JaimeDavies - PhD title "Mapping Deep-Sea Features in UK Waters For Use inMarine Protected Area Network Design" 2011

RebeccaJefferson - PhD title "Communicating Marine Environmental Health: ConnectingScience, Social and Policy Values" 2010 

  • Ross, R.E.,Nimmo-Smith, W.A.M., Howell, K.L. (2016) Increasing the depthof current understanding: Sensitivity testing of deep-sea larval dispersalmodels for ecologists. PLOS ONE 11(8): e0161220. 

    Howell,K.L., Piechaud, N.,Downie, A.L., Kenny, A. (2016) The distribution of deep-sea sponge aggregationsin the North Atlantic and implications for their effective spatial management.Deep Sea Research Part I,115: 309–320.

    Amaro, T.,V. A. I. Huvenne, A. L. Allcock, T. Aslam, J. S.Davies, R. Danovaro, H. C. DeStigter, Duineveldi, G.C.A. , Gambig, C., Gooday,A.J., Gunton, L.M., Halld, R., Howell,K.L., Ingels, J., Kiriakoulakis,K., Kershaw, C.E., Lavaleye, M.S.S.,Robert, K., Stewart, H., Van Rooij, D.,White, M., Wilson, A.M., (2016) TheWhittard Canyon–A case study of submarine canyon processes. Progress inOceanography 146: 38-57.

    Piechaud,N., Downie, A.,Stewart, H. A., & Howell, K. L. (2015). Theimpact of modelling method selection on predicted extent and distribution ofdeep-sea benthic assemblages. Earth and Environmental Science Transactions ofthe 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): DefiningDeep-Sea Biotopes to Support Habitat Mapping and Management Efforts with aFocus on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0124815.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124815

    Evans J.L,Peckett F., Howell, K.L. (2015) Combined application ofbiophysical habitat mapping and systematic conservation planning to assessefficiency and representativeness of the existing HighSeasMPA network in the Northeast Atlantic. ICES Journal of Marine Sciencedoi:10.1093/icesjms/fsv012

    Hilário A,Metaxas A, Gaudron SM, Howell KL, Mercier A, Mestre NC, Ross RE,Thurnherr AM and Young C (2015) Estimating dispersal distance in the deep sea:challenges and applications to marine reserves. Frontiers in MarineScience 2:6.doi:10.3389/fmars.2015.00006

    Marshall, C.E., Glegg, G. A., & Howell,K. L. (2014).Speciesdistribution modelling to support marine conservation 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 andasteroids along a bathymetric gradient (NE Atlantic). Marine Ecology ProgressSeries, 508, 177-185.

    JacksonE.L., Davies, A.J., Howell, K.L., Kershaw, P.J., Hall-Spencer, J.M.(2014) Future-proofing marine protected areanetworks for cold water coralreefs. . 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 theshelves 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 seataxa from video and image analysis: Response to Henry and Roberts. ICES Journalof 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 inthe submarine canyons of the South West Approaches (offshore United Kingdom)for use in marine habitat mapping. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studiesin Oceanography. 10.1016/j.dsr2.2014.02.001

    Stewart, H.A., Davies, J. S., Guinan, J. C., and Howell, K. L. (2014) TheDangeard and Explorer Canyons, South Western Approaches UK: Geology,sedimentology and newly discovered cold-water coral mini-mounds. Deep-SeaRes. 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 andSexual 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 seastar Hippasteriaphrygiana corresponds to the onset of the last glacial period of thePleistocene. 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 inOceanography. 92, 79-86.       

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

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

    Ross.,R, Howell, K.L. (2013)  Use of predictive habitatmodelling 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 habitatclassification for benthic mapping in European seas: Present concerns andfuture 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 pertusaand 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 toapply the ecosystem approach to management of deep-sea fisheries? An examplefrom the West of Scotland. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 68,265-280.

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

    Howell, K.L. (2010) A benthic classification system to aid in the implementationof 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). Identifyingdeep-sea megafaunal epibenthic assemblages for use in habitat mapping andmarine protected area network design. Journal of the Marine BiologicalAssociation of the United Kingdom, 90 , pp 33-68 .

    Tyler, PA,Emson, RH, Sumida, PY, Howell, KL. (2005) Ophiuroid distribution atsublittoral 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 amongmorphotypes 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 EcologyProgress 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 EcologyProgress Series 255, 193-206

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

  • Reports

    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