March 17, 2003
James Estes receives Ed Ricketts Marine Science
By Gloria Maender
U.S. Geological Survey
James Estes, adjunct professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
and ocean sciences, received this year's Ed Ricketts Award during the
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Symposium at California State
University, Monterey Bay, on Saturday, March 15.
Estes, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is an
internationally recognized expert on sea otters and a specialist in
the critical role of apex, or top-level predators in the marine environment.
Since 1986, the Ed Ricketts Memorial Lecture has honored individuals
who have exhibited exemplary work throughout their career and advanced
the status of knowledge in the field of marine science. Recipients are
selected by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Research Activities
"I am delighted to be a recipient of this award," said Estes,
who is based at UCSC's Center for Ocean Health.
Estes presented the Ricketts Memorial Lecture, titled "Defaunated
Food Webs: Vertebrate Consumers and Nature's Balance," on Saturday.
Research activities panel chair Chris Harrold of the Monterey Bay Aquarium
introduced Estes and presented the award to him immediately after the
"Jim has conducted ground-breaking research on sea otters and
other marine mammals for over 30 years," said Harrold in praise
of Estes. "Much of what we know today about sea otters and their
interactions with nearshore marine ecosystems comes from his pioneering
work in the Aleutian Islands and the subsequent work done by him and
his students. His knowledge about marine mammals and ecosystems is broad
and deep, and his research interests range from the ecology and evolution
of kelps to reasons for the rise and fall of the great whales. He worked
recently with several collaborators in reconstructing long-term effects
of human exploitation on marine ecosystems."
Estes's interest in predation as an ecosystem-level process began in
the early 1970s, shortly after he began working with sea otters. Using
the otters' fragmented distribution across the Aleutian Archipelago,
which resulted from a history of near-extinction and recovery, he discovered
the species' keystone role in kelp forests by contrasting islands where
the otter was abundant or rare. This work provides one of the better-known
examples of how apex predators influence ecosystem function.
These early findings led Estes to explore the spatial, temporal, and
functional dimensions of sea otter-kelp forest interactions over the
next 30 years. Estes's most recent research addresses the unanticipated
collapse of sea otters and kelp forests in western Alaska. He is currently
involved with studies designed to better understand the vexing problem
of decline in the threatened California sea otter.
Estes has published his research in more than 100 journal articles
and book chapters. He earned a B.A. in zoology at the University of
Minnesota, M.S. in zoology at Washington State University, and Ph.D.
in biological sciences and statistics from the University of Arizona.
Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist who never earned a college degree,
died over 50 years ago, yet he still inspires followers with his book
Between Pacific Tides. Ricketts pursued his research from a laboratory
in Monterey, where fishermen, biologists, and writers alike visited
him. He was the inspiration for the character "Doc" in John
Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row.