Heather Leslie
Sharpe Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology
Center for Environmental Studies & Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Brown University

Dr. Heather Leslie is the Peggy and Henry D. Sharpe Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology at Brown University. She holds a joint appointment in the Center for Environmental Studies and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. A member of the Brown faculty since July 2007, Heather Leslie received an A.B. in Biology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Zoology from Oregon State University. Before arriving at Brown, she was a research associate at Princeton University.

Prof. Leslie conducts research on the ecology, policy, and management of coastal marine ecosystems. Her research program focuses on the complexity of interactions in coastal marine ecosystems, including the connections among ecosystems and human societies, and the biophysical, socioeconomic, and institutional factors that shape those linkages. Specific research areas include marine ecology; design and evaluation of conservation strategies, including ecosystem-based management; and coupled human and natural systems. Prof. Leslie uses a range of complementary approaches drawn from both the biophysical and social sciences, including field experiments and observations; modeling; and synthetic analyses in order to investigate the causes and consequences of humans’ diverse connections to coastal marine systems, and to apply this knowledge to advance marine conservation and management.

Leslie's work has appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ecology, Conservation Biology, and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, and has been covered by the New York Times and the Environmental News Service. In 2009, she published the first comprehensive guide to the science and practice of ecosystem-based management with Island Press, Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans.


Prof. Heather Leslie’s research is focused on generating and synthesizing science to inform coastal marine policy and management. As a marine conservation scientist, she is motivated by two key questions: 1) What are the causes and consequences of ecological and social change in coastal marine systems? and 2) How do we effectively integrate this knowledge into policy and management?

To illustrate how she answers these questions, Prof. Leslie will describe the international, interdisciplinary research program she leads on the coupled coastal human-environment systems associated with small-scale fisheries in Mexico’s Gulf of California. This coupled systems approach brings together data and approaches from diverse disciplines, including oceanography, ecology, economics, and anthropology. For example, using a coupled bio economic modeling approach, Prof. Leslie and colleagues have illustrated how a size selective fishery, driven by market demand, can benefit both people and targeted fish populations in the La Paz region. Complementing this work are analyses at the gulf-wide scale, incorporating the region’s substantial spatial variation in oceanography, biogeography, and human institutions.

Ultimately fisheries are one of many benefits provided to people by functioning marine systems. By combining field observations and experiments with modeling and synthetic analyses, Prof. Leslie provides decision makers at multiple scales – in Mexico and the US – knowledge that can be used to monitor, assess, and ultimately improve the health of oceans and the coastal human communities that are part of them.

Sponsored in conjunction with Environmental Earth Systems Science.