Alexis Fischer, Ph.D.
Alexis is a biological oceanographer and phytoplankton ecologist. She has been fascinated with the alien-ness of ocean life ever since she was a child – at one point she even had a pet nudibranch (a.k.a., a sea slug)! Her research focuses on the strange, single-celled plants that produce much of the oxygen we breathe: phytoplankton.
Alexis joined NOAA Fisheries in 2021 as an Associate Scientist. Before that, she researched phytoplankton bloom dynamics in Cape Cod National Seashore, Monterey Bay, and the Arctic. Alexis holds a B.A. in Biological Sciences from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program. She is an avid surfer and cyclist and tries to get out into nature as much as possible.
Tiny organisms, giant impact
Phytoplankton are a diverse group of microscopic, photosynthetic organisms that form the base of marine food webs and regulate global climate. The growth of different species is dependent on the advantages that their unique physiologies provide in each environment. These physiological “superpowers” include novel life cycles, toxin production, swimming behaviors, and nutritional strategies that include carnivory. But climate change may favor certain phytoplankton physiologies over others with consequences for ecosystem health and function.
Alexis uses ocean robots, laboratory experiments, and mathematical modeling to understand how phytoplankton respond to environmental change. Her mission is to predict cascading changes at the base of the food web due to environmental change and to inform mitigation strategies. Alexis’s research focuses on three main areas:
- Investigating how life cycle transitions between benthic and planktonic stages drive dinoflagellate bloom dynamics
- Using temperature–driven physiological rates to define environmental windows for harmful algal bloom initiation under present and future climate scenarios
- Assessing environmental and climatological drivers of interannual variation in phytoplankton community composition in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem