Faculty Spotlight: Mike Polito

Mike Polito, assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, is a trophic ecologist, or a researcher who studies how organisms interact with each other and their environment through the lens of what they eat. His research illustrates how energy moves through food webs and how species respond to changes in their ecosystems.

Polito conducts research in ecosystems from Louisiana to Antarctica and all across the globe. He identifies the diversity and abundance of species in each ecosystem and collects tissue samples. Then, he analyzes these tissue samples using stable isotope analysis to determine the diets of each species, which helps trace the flow of nutrients throughout the entire food web.

"For example, we can take a sample of a penguin's feathers and figure out how much krill or fish that penguin ate while it was growing its feathers," Polito said.

Because ecosystems are a complex network of interactions, understanding where a species fits into a food web allows scientists to better understand how changes to one part of the food web will affect the entire ecosystem. This is a critical component in understanding the ecological impact of climate change, oil spills, and other environmental stressors.

photo of mike polito