Mary O’Connor

Wall Scholar


Associate Professor


Department of Zoology



Geographic Location

Mary O'Connor

Mary I. O’Connor’s research centers on understanding change in marine ecosystems, including causes and consequences of biodiversity change and climate change impacts. Her work integrates field research in seagrass meadows in British Columbia, lab experiments, theoretical modeling and data synthesis. Major accomplishments include extending metabolic theory of ecology to include how temperature affects herbivore-plant interactions and larval dispersal in the ocean, and understanding how predator biodiversity change affects food web structure and function. O’Connor lab researchers participate in the Zostera Experimental Network (ZEN), the Canadian Institute for Ecology and Evolution (CIEE), and iDiv Synthesis Centre. Dr. O’Connor earned a BS in Aquatic Ecology from Brown University (2000), and a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008, followed by a postdoc at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS).

Dr. O’Connor’s science and perspective is informed by her experiences working at the Environmental Defense Fund, at the University of Washington, and by a fishing trip on the commercial F/V Augustine in Alaska. Born and raised in rural Washington State, in the northwestern United States, the mild wet climate of the Northeast Pacific, and the lush, productive ecosystems and livelihoods these ecosystems sustain define her home. She is driven to understand how ecosystems function, what influences biodiversity and species persistence, and how humans can grow and thrive sustainably with coastal ecosystems.

Her work contributes to our understanding of how patterns of species abundance are related to ocean temperature as it varies from place to place, season to season, and with climate change. Currently, she is exploring how the effects of temperature on individual metabolic rate in turn influence interactions among species or dispersal of marine organisms. Dr. O’Connor also studies the effects of changing predator diversity in the ocean, and the consequences of invasive species in marine habitats.

Primary Recipient Awards

Mary O’Connor – Wall Scholars – 2015

Dr. O’Connor’s primary research objective as a Peter Wall Scholar is to work in an interdisciplinary spirit to extend her framework for how temperature change affects ecosystem structure across scales by exploring energetic and biogeographic constraints of temperature on the feasibility and strength of herbivory in ecosystems. This research objective contributes to hery overall goal of identifying concepts and relationships that unify ecological pattern and process across scales of cell to organism to community to ecosystem, and to use this unified framework to understand ecological change. A secondary objective for Dr. O’Connor’s Wall Scholarship is to explore concepts and communication of complexity in science through poetry, and to launch a project on visualizing biodiversity loss through art.

Mary O’Connor – Early Career Scholar Start-Up Research Grant – 2013