Dr Nicola Foster

Dr Nicola Foster

Research Fellow

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


I am a Research Fellow at the University and I study coral populations across a broad depth range, from shallow, tropical coral reefs (<30 m), to the relatively unexplored mesophotic coral ecosystems (30-200 m), and beyond to the cold-water corals of the deep sea (>200 m). I am particularly interested in variation in diversity and community structure along the depth gradient, and the horizontal and vertical connectivity of populations via larval dispersal, and the implications of this on conservation and management of the marine environment. Currently, I am working on two key projects. I am investigating the changes in diversity and distribution of mesophotic reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory in relation to depth and oceanographic drivers. In this project, I will assess the genetic connectivity of sessile reef species across the depth gradient from shallow to mesophotic depths to determine the potential of mesophotic reefs to resupply shallow reefs with larvae following mortality. In the second project (DeepLinks), we are investigating how patterns of population connectivity vary with depth in the deep sea, and how this influences species diversity, using a combination of molecular techniques, modelling and community analysis.


2019 Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

2019 Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practise, University of Plymouth

2007 PhD University of Exeter - Population dynamics of the dominant Caribbean reef-building coral, Montastraea annularis.

2002 MSc University of Wales, Bangor - Marine Environmental Protection.

2000 BSc (Hons) University of Wales, Bangor - Marine Biology.

Professional membership

International Society for Reef Studies

Society for Conservation Biology

Marine Biological Association

Deep-sea Biology Society

Teaching interests

I am currently involved in delivering occasional lectures within a selected number of modules within my department (MBIO221 Marine Molecular Biology, MBIO315 Biological Oceanography, MBAM5106 Advanced Research in Marine Biology, MBAM5108 Marine Ecology and Conservation), and I also assist with practical sessions, fieldtrips and workshops.

Research interests

My broad research interests focus on marine ecology, population dynamics, population connectivity and conservation genetics. In particular, I am interested in using population genetic studies to inform conservation planning and management of the marine environment.

Grants & contracts

Researcher/Co-investigator - NERC Grant: Influence of population connectivity on depth-dependent diversity of deep-sea benthic biota (£574,000; 2015-2018)

Key publications are highlighted

Howell KL, Davies JS, Allcock AL, Braga-Henriques A, Buhl-Mortensen P, Carreiro-Silva M, Dominguez-Carrió C, Durden JM, Foster NL & Game CA 2019 'A framework for the development of a global standardised marine taxon reference image database (SMarTaR-ID) to support image-based analyses' PLOS ONE 14, (12) e0218904-e0218904 , DOI PEARL
Piechaud N, Hunt C, Culverhouse PF, Foster NL & Howell KL 2019 'Automated identification of benthic epifauna with computer vision' Marine Ecology Progress Series 615, 15-30 , DOI PEARL
Kennedy EV, Tonk L, Foster NL, Mumby PJ & Stevens JR 2019 'Temporal stability of Orbicella annularis symbioses: A case study in the Bahamas' Bulletin of Marine Science 95, (2) 289-304 , DOI PEARL
Rees SE, Pittman SJ, Foster N, Langmead O, Griffiths C, Fletcher S, Johnson DE & Attrill M 2018 'Bridging the divide: Social-ecological coherence in Marine Protected Area network design' Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems , DOI PEARL
Rees SE, Foster NL, Langmead O, Pittman S & Johnson DE 2017 'Defining the qualitative elements of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 with regard to the marine and coastal environment in order to strengthen global efforts for marine biodiversity conservation outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14' Marine Policy , DOI PEARL
Foster NL, Rees S, Langmead O, Griffiths C, Oates J & Attrill M 2017 'Assessing the ecological coherence of a marine protected area network in the Celtic Seas' Ecosphere 8, (2) , DOI PEARL
Kennedy EV, Tonk L, Foster NL, Chollett I, Ortiz J-C, Dove S, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Mumby PJ & Stevens JR 2016 'Symbiodinium biogeography tracks environmental patterns rather than host genetics in a key Caribbean reef-builder, Orbicella annularis' Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283, (1842) 20161938-20161938 , DOI PEARL
Sheehan EV, Vaz S, Pettifer E, Foster NL, Nancollas SJ, Cousens S, Holmes L, Facq J-V, Germain G & Attrill MJ 2016 'An experimental comparison of three towed underwater video systems using species metrics, benthic impact and performance' Methods in Ecology and Evolution 7, (7) 843-852 , DOI PEARL
Foster NL, Lukowiak K & Henry TB 2015 'Time-related expression profiles for heat shock protein gene transcripts (HSP40, HSP70) in the central nervous system of Lymnaea stagnalis exposed to thermal stress' Communicative & Integrative Biology 8:3, PEARL
Rodríguez-Rodríguez D, Sciberras M, Foster NL & Attrill MJ 2015 'Status of management effort in 153 marine protected areas across the English Channel' Mar Pollut Bull 94, (1-2) 168-175 Author Site , DOI
Bennett KA, Hughes J, Stamatas S, Brand S, Foster NL, Moss SEW & Pomeroy PP 2015 'Adiponectin and Insulin in Gray Seals during Suckling and Fasting: Relationship with Nutritional State and Body Mass during Nursing in Mothers and Pups' Physiol Biochem Zool 88, (3) 295-310 Author Site , DOI
Kennedy EV, Foster NL, Mumby PJ & Stevens JR 2015 'Erratum to: Widespread prevalence of cryptic Symbiodinium D in the key Caribbean reef builder, Orbicella annularis' Coral Reefs 34, (2) 533-533 , DOI
Kennedy EV, Foster NL, Mumby PJ & Stevens JR 2015 'Widespread prevalence of cryptic Symbiodinium D in the key Caribbean reef builder, Orbicella annularis' Coral Reefs 34, (2) 519-531 , DOI
Foster NL & Briffa M 2014 'Familial strife on the seashore: aggression increases with relatedness in the sea anemone Actinia equina' Behav Processes 103, 243-245 Author Site , DOI PEARL
Howell KL, Bullimore RD & Foster NL 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 71, (4) 899-906 Author Site , DOI
Bullimore RD, Foster NL & Howell KL 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 Author Site , DOI
Foster NL, Baums IB, Sanchez JA, Paris CB, Chollett I, Agudelo CL, Vermeij MJA & Mumby PJ 2013 'Hurricane-Driven Patterns of Clonality in an Ecosystem Engineer: The Caribbean Coral Montastraea annularis' PLOS ONE 8, (1) Author Site , DOI PEARL
Foster NL, Foggo A & Howell KL 2013 'Using species-area relationships to inform baseline conservation targets for the deep North East Atlantic' PLoS One 8, (3) Author Site , DOI PEARL
FOSTER NL, PARIS CB, KOOL JT, BAUMS IB, STEVENS JR, SANCHEZ JA, BASTIDAS C, AGUDELO C, BUSH P & DAY O 2012 'Connectivity of Caribbean coral populations: complementary insights from empirical and modelled gene flow' Molecular Ecology 21, (5) 1143-1157 , DOI
Foster NL, Williams M, Chan S, Ramirez C & Vasquez V 2009 'Damage to the reefs of Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Belize, during the 28 May 2009 earthquake' Coral Reefs 29, (1) 19-19 , DOI
Foster NL, Box SJ & Mumby PJ 2008 'Competitive effects of macroalgae on the fecundity of the reef-building coral Montastraea annularis' Marine Ecology Progress Series 367, 143-152 , DOI
Foster NL, Baums IB & Mumby PJ 2007 'Sexual vs. asexual reproduction in an ecosystem engineer: the massive coral Montastraea annularis' Journal of Animal Ecology 76, 384-391
Mumby PJ, Foster NL & Fahy EAG 2005 'Patch dynamics of coral reef macroalgae under chronic and acute disturbance' Coral Reefs 24, (4) 681-692 , DOI
Attrill MJ & Foster NL 2015 'Changes in coral reef ecosystems' in Letcher TM Climate change: Observed impacts on planet earth. Elsevier Science 183-193 Publisher Site