Biology of Marine Systems at Harvard University

What we do:

Through a variety of laboratory, field, and model based studies Harvard faculty and students investigate unique aspects of the biology of marine organisms, and explore their relationships with the chemical and physical environment of the ocean, from the surface to the deep ocean floor and its sedimentary layers.  These organisms are uniquely interesting in their own right, and research in recent decades has demonstrated the significance of marine organisms, from the smallest microbes to the largest mammals, in Earth’s biogeochemical cycles.

OEB's programs in this area include ecology and physiological genomics, biogeography, and systematics as well as fluid dynamics of life in the marine environments. Organisms and habitats studied include microbial populations in deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities, plankton in oceanic and coastal waters, invertebrates in coastal and near-shore bottom habitats, and wide ranging marine vertebrates.  

Current areas of research include:

  • Roles of seasonal and interannual variability in climate on marine productivity
  • Coupling of the nitrogen and carbon cycles in planktonic and microbial ecosystems
  • Reproductive biology and dispersal
  • Systematics, biogeography and phylogeography
  • Invasive and introduced species
  • Invertebrate-microbial symbioses, their co-evolution, physiology, and population biogeography
  • Comparative genomics of deep-sea vent and coastal chemosynthetic symbionts
  • Biomechanics of fish locomotion



Faculty in other Departments:

Ann Pearson (EPS)
Colleen Hansel (EPS)
Woody Hastings (MCB, Emeritus)


Selected courses in Biology of Marine Systems:

OEB 51. Biology and Evolution of Invertebrate Animals
OEB 56. Geobiology and the History of Life
OEB 123. Biology of Symbiosis
OEB 130. Biology of Fishes
OEB 157. Global Change Biology
OEB 190. Biology and Diversity of Birds
OEB 191. Physiological and Biochemical Adaptation
OEB 221. Microbial Diversity
OEB 227. Molecular Approaches to Environmental Microbiology
OEB 234. Topics in Marine Biology
OEB 255. Nature and Regulation of Marine Ecosystems

Marine related courses in other departments:

EPS 22. The Fluid Earth: Oceans, Atmosphere, Climate, and Environment
EPS 131. Intro to Physical Oceanography and Climate
EPS 181. Historical Geobiology
EPS 186. Low Temperature Geochemistry I: Introduction to Biogeochemical Cycles . EPS 187. Low Temperature Geochemistry II: Modern and Ancient Biogeochemical Processes
EPS 189. Analytical and Field Methods in Geobiology
EPS 287. Current Topics in Biogeochemistry II: Role of the biological pump in the carbon cycle
ENG SCI 168. Aquatic Chemistry
164. Soil and Environmental Chemistry
Freshman Seminar 21k. Monsters and Movers in the Deep
General Education. Science of Living Systems 22. Human Influence on
Life in the Sea