Dr Rebecca Ross

Dr Rebecca Ross

Post Doc RF in Marine Larval Dispersal & Sampling Research

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


Main research interests:

The Deep Sea

This fascinating realm remains largely unexplored and is a challenge to visit and understand. I have undertaken four offshore research cruises to date, specialising in work with Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) which we use to explore, video, photograph and sample the denizens of the deep. I have a good working knowledge of the NE Atlantic benthic megafauna, and have undertaken work on taxonomy and habitat classification of these fauna.

Predictive ecology          

In areas where we are lacking data, or where we are yet to understand the complexities of the ecological dynamics, predictive models are a great way to start detecting patterns and filling in gaps. I am fascinated by these tools, exploring their strengths and weaknesses and am keen to help others get the most out of these tools too. My work has   explored species/habitat distribution models in the past and now revolves more around larval dispersal models (e.g. my PhD - thesis available here). Larval dispersal modelling especially is inherently interdisciplinary, requiring an understanding of ecology, biology, oceanography, and computer science!

Marine Conservation

Much of my drive comes from the need to responsibly conserve our marine environment. We have to accept that the oceans will be exploited, but we must act now to ensure that the impact we have is minimal. Predictive models have many applications in conservation - from helping managers understand what lives in the area, to exploring the usefulness of protecting one area over another.

Marine Ecology

Always a scientist at heart, I still have a great love for the learning and curiosity - understanding why beasties are where they are, how they interact with their environment and neighbours, how they are related, and how the environment evolves as a whole. There is a wonderful interaction between models and ecology, each feeding the other, resulting in a long wishlist of things to learn. When do different species spawn? What makes them choose that time? Are the larvae able to swim? Do water mass boundaries block their way? If the environment is suitable then why aren't they there? What drives speciation? How is biogeography changing? There is so much to learn!

Current projects (in tandem with Kerry Howell and Antony Knights):

- The Deep Links project - making connections between deep sea population genetics and larval dispersal models

- Larval sampling - trialling new (TOP SECRET) designs for equipment to catch larvae and improve our knowledge of their ecology

- Sabellaria alveolata (the honeycomb worm) - a shallow water, but continent wide, study linking population genetics and larval dispersal models

- Pheronema carpenteri (Deep Sea Bird's Nest Sponge) Aggregations - a vulnerable marine ecosystem we know so little about, linking predictive models together to form hypotheses

I am a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Research Unit.


2002-2005 BSc(hons) Marine Biology & Coastal Ecology, Plymouth University.

2006-2007 MSc Science Media Prodcution, Imperial College, London.

2007-2009 Factual TV work freelance

2009-2012 Research Assistant at Plymouth University, primarily working on habitat mapping, predictive modelling, and the biological analysis of underwater photographs and video.

2012-2016 PhD Marine Science, Plymouth University "Investigating the role of larval dispersal models in the development of an 'ecologically coherent' network of deep sea marine protected areas" (Supervised by Dr Kerry Howell)

2016- present Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Plymouth University.

Professional membership

Marine Biological Association
Oceanographic Society

Scottish Association of Marine Science
Porcupine Marine Natural History Association

Research interests

Deep-sea ecology, predictive species/assemblage modelling, larval connectivity, habitat mapping, marine conservation and management, use of underwater video (ROV, towed camera) in science, interdisciplinary projects.


My PhD is using biophysical modelling practices to assess deep sea connectivity (and to check whether that practice is appropriate as an assessment measure). My aim is to provide information useful to marine managers and conservationists and to provide data for comparison with future work funded by NERC where custom models and genetic data can be used to ground truth my studies.

My overall focus is to provide data useful in the pursuit of sustainability. Sustainability is common sense to me - avoid decimating the world and ending up with nothing in the future! The key is in finding a balance and in the context of the deep sea, I aim to help to focus conservation efforts and minimise cost (both fiscally and economically) so that well managed marine resource utilisation may continue, while marine biodiversity and population stocks are maintained. Fishing and mining in my eyes are no different from farming the land - set asides and hedgrows have long been valued in that practice, it should be no different in the marine environment.

Research Cruises:

RRS James Cook, June 2016, JC136, 3 weeks
RV Celtic Explorer, July 2015, CE15011, 3 weeks
MRV Scotia, October 2012, 1512S, 2 weeks
RRS James Cook, May 2011, JC060, 5 weeks

Grants & contracts

NERC studentship 2012-2015

Previously contracted by:

BBC Wildlife Fund
Natural England
Oak Foundation


Ross, R.E., Nimmo-Smith, W.A.M.,  Howell, K.L. (2017) Towards 'ecological coherence': assessing larval dispersal within a network of existing Marine Protected Areas. Deep Sea Research Part I.

Ross, R.E., Nimmo-Smith, W.A.M., Howell, K.L. (2016) Increasing the depth of current understanding: Sensitivity testing of deep-sea larval dispersal models for ecologists. PLOS ONE 11(8): e0161220. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0161220

Ross, L.K., Ross, R.E., Stewart, H.A., Howell, K.L. (2015) The Influence of Data Resolution on Predicted Distribution and Estimates of Extent of Current Protection of Three ‘Listed’ Deep-Sea Habitats. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0140061. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0140061 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0140061

Hilário, A., Metaxas, A., Gaudron, S.M., Howell, K.L., Mercier, A., Mestre, N., Ross, R.E., Thurnherr, A.M., Young, C. (2015) Estimating dispersal distance in the deep sea: challenges and applications to marine reserves. Frontiers in Marine Science. 2:6 DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2015.00006 http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmars.2015.00006/abstract

Ross, R.E. & 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(2) pp 433-445 DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12010 

Paris, C.B, Vaz, A.C., Helgers, J., Wood, S., Ross, R. (2017) Connectivity Modeling System: User's Guide [CMS v 2.0]. University of Miami. https://github.com/beatrixparis/connectivity-modeling-system/blob/master/User-Guide-v2.pdf

Howell, K.L., Huvenne, V., Piechaud, N., Robert, K. & Ross, R.E., (2014), Analysis of biological data from the JC060 survey of areas of conservation interest in deep waters off north and west Scotland, JNCC Report 528, ISSN 0963 8091 http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-6842

Ross, R.E. (2011) South Devon reef video baseline surveys for the Prawle Point to Plymouth Sound & Eddystone cSAC and surrounding areas. Report to Natural England. http://www.dassh.ac.uk/dataDelivery/filestore/1/4/6_741e84980c2a6cc/146_342ed3f2491dabb.pdf

Howell, K.L., Ross, R.E., Tyler-Walters, H. (2011) Mapping the deep: mapping the distribution of sensitive deep-sea habitats to enable their future protection through the establishment of marine protected areas. Report to the BBC Wildlife Fund.

4th Intersnational Marine Conservation Congress, St John's, Canada, August 2016. Oral presentation.
14th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium, Aveiro, Portugal, August 2015. Keynote oral presenation.
Spatial Statistics: emerging patterns 2015, Avignon, France, June 2014. Poster presentation 
Challenger Society Meeting 2014, Plymouth, UK, September 2014. Oral presentation.
Ocean Sciences Meeting 2014, Honolulu, Hawai'i, February 2014. Poster presentation.
13th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand, Dec 2012. Oral presentation.

REVIEWER FORFrontiers in Marine Research
Deep-Sea Research Part I
Diversity and Distributions
Journal of Fish Biology

Reports & invited lectures

Invited keynote oral presentation at the 14th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium, Aveiro, Protugal, August 2015. 

"Lagrangian model wars: comparing predictions of deep sea larval dispersal"