Michael Lesser

Research Professor of Microbiology

Ph.D. University of Maine, 1989

Research Areas

Coral Reef Biology, Physiological Ecology, Invertebrate Physiology, Photobiology, Microbial Symbioses, Remote Sensing and Optics.

Research Emphasis

My principal research interests involve understanding how taxonomically diverse marine organisms respond physiologically to changes in their environment. In particular I'm interested in how organismal performance can influence the distribution and abundance of marine organisms. "Bottom-up" processes such as nutrient availability, primary productivity, and organismal energetics, are important determinants of community structure that will influence the outcome of "top-down" processes such as predation, competition, and recruitment. As a physiological ecologist my students and I answer these types of questions by utilizing field and laboratory experiments, as well as a wide range of techniques from molecular biology to in situ measurements using remote or autonomous instruments. My research interests include the effects of ultraviolet radiation and photo-oxidative stress in bacteria, phytoplankton, and corals and the bioenergetics of suspension-feeding invertebrates. I am also involved in a project addressing the variability of optical signatures on coral reefs. This information will be utilized to better understand data on the remote sensing of coral reef habitats for mapping and conservation efforts. Additional research projects include studies on the reproductive biology of sea urchins for aquaculture, and the physiological basis of bleaching in corals. Many of these projects have been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, Sea Grant, Smithsonian Institution, Office of Naval Research and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Courses Taught

  • Biological Oceanography
  • Marine Microbiology
  • Marine Biology
  • Physiological Ecology


Lesser, M. P., Carleton, K. L., Böttger, S. A., Barry, T. M. and C. W. Walker.  Sea Urchin Tube Feet are Photosensory Organs that Express a Rhabdomeric-like opsin and PAX6. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0336, 2011.

Lesser, M. P., and M. Slattery.  Invasive Lionfish Causes a Phase Shift to Algal Dominated Communities at Mesophotic Depths on a Bahamian Coral Reef.  Biological Invasions, 13: 1855-1868, 2011.

Lesser, M. P.  Coral Bleaching: Causes and Mechanisms.  In: Coral Reefs: An Ecosystem in Transition, Dubinsky, Z. and N. Stambler (eds.), Springer, pp. 405-420, 2011.

Warner, M. E., Lesser, M. P., and P. Ralph.  Chlorophyll Fluorescence in Reef Building Corals.  In: Chlorophyll a Fluorescence in Aquatic Sciences: Methods and Applications, Suggett, D., Prasil, O. and M. Borowitzka (eds.), Springer, pp. 209-222, 2010.

Fiore, C. L., Jarett, J. K., Olson, N. D., and M. P. Lesser.  Nitrogen Fixation and Nitrogen Transformations in Marine Symbioses. Trends in Microbiology, 18: 455-463, 2010.

Lesser, M. P., M. Bailey, D. Merselis, and J. R. Morrison. Physiological response of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis to differences in food and temperature in the Gulf of Maine. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A, 156: 541-551, 2010.

Lesser, M. P., M. Slattery, M. Stat, M. Ojimi, R. Gates, and A. Grottoli. Photoacclimatization by the Coral Montastraea cavernosa in the Mesophotic Zone: Light, Food, and Genetics.  Ecology, 91: 990-1003, 2010.

Lesser, M. P. Survivorship, Oxidative Stress, and DNA Damage of Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) Embryos and Larvae Exposed to Ultraviolet Radiation (290-400 nm) in the Gulf of Maine.  Photochemistry and Photobiology, 86: 382-388, 2010.

Banaszak, A. T. and M. P. Lesser.  Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation on Coral Reef Organisms.  Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences, 8: 1276-1294, 2009.

Lesser, M. P. Slattery, M., and J. J. Leichter.  Ecology of Mesophotic Coral Reefs.  Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 375: 1-8, 2009.

Blakeslee, A. M. H., Byers, J. E., and M. P. Lesser. Resolving cryptogenic histories using host and parasite molecular genetics.  Molecular Ecology, 17: 3684-3696, 2008.

Lesser, M. P., Falcón, L. I. Rodríguez-Román, A., Enríquez, S., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., and R. Iglesias-Prieto. Nitrogen Fixation by Symbiotic Cyanobacteria Provides a Source of Nitrogen for the Scleractinian Coral, Montastraea cavernosa. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 346:143-152, 2007.

Lesser, M. P. Coral Reefs Bleaching and Global Climate Change: Can Corals Survive the Next Century? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104: 5259-5260, 2007.

Bou-Abdallah, F., Chasteen, N. D., and M. P. Lesser. Quenching of Superoxide Radicals by Green Fluorescent Protein. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (General Subjects) 1760:1690-1695, 2006.

Lesser, M. P.
Oxidative Stress in Marine Environments: Biochemistry and Physiological Ecology. Annual Reviews of Physiology, 68: 253-278, 2006.

Lesser, M. P., Mazel, C. M., Gorbunov, M. Y., and P. G. Falkowski. Discovery of Symbiotic Nitrogen-Fixing Cyanobacteria in Corals. Science, 305: 997-1000, 2004.

Lesser, M. P.
Experimental Coral Reef Biology. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 300: 217-252, 2004.

Lesser, M. P.
, P. J. Neale, and J. J. Cullen. Acclimation of Antarctic Phytoplankton to Ultraviolet Radiation: UV Absorbing Compounds and Carbon Fixation. Molecular Marine Biology and Biotechnology, 5: 314-325, 1996.

Lesser, M. P.
Exposure of Symbiotic Dinoflagellates To Elevated Temperatures and Ultraviolet Radiation Causes Oxidative Stress and Inhibits Photosynthesis. Limnology and Oceanography, 41: 271-283, 1996.

Cullen, J. J, P. J. Neale, and M. P. Lesser. Biological Weighting Function for the Inhibition of Phytoplankton Photosynthesis by Ultraviolet Radiation. Science, 258:646-650, 1992.

Lesser, M. P. and R. P. Blakemore. Description of a Novel Symbiotic Bacterium from the Brittlestar, Amphipholis squamata. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 56:2436-2440, 1990.


University of New Hampshire
Dept. of Molecular, Cellular and Biomedical Sciences
202 Rudman Hall
46 College Road
Durham, NH 03824

Research Areas: 
Behavior and Physiology of Marine Animals
Biological Oceanography
Marine Microbiology
Marine Molecular and Cellular Processes
Optical Oceanography/Remote Sensing