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Department of Invertebrate Zoology

image of Dr. Nancy Knowlton

bar image of book Citizens of the Sea

Nancy KnowltonSant Chair for Marine Science

  • Phone: 202-633-0668
  • Fax: 202-633-0182
  • E-mail:

  • Mailing Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 163
    Washington, DC 20013-7012

  • Courier Delivery Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    10th and Constitution Ave, NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0163

    Responsibilities: Sant Chair for Marine Science and Invertebrate Zoology Staff


    Smith College, Biology, 1967-69
    Harvard University, A.B. in Biology, summa cum laude, 1969-71
    University of California at Berkeley, Ph.D. in Zoology, 1972-78
    NATO Postdoctoral Fellow, Univ. of Liverpool & Cambridge Univ., 1979

    Research Interests:
    Marine biodiversity and conservation; Ecology, evolution, behavior, and systematics of coral reef organisms.

    Professional Activities: Senior scientist emeritus, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Adjunct professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego; Board of Directors, Coral Reef Alliance; Editorial Board, Annual Review of Marine Science; Pew Marine Fellows Advisory Committee; Chair, Editorial Board, Ocean Portal; Founder, Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.

    Honors and Elected Offices: AAAS Board of Directors, Peter Benchley Award for Science in Service of Conservation.

    Recent Publications:
    Knowlton, Nancy 2018. How rats wreak havoc on coral reefs. Nature, 559(7713): 190-191. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-05355-y

    Pearman, J. K., Leray, M., Villalobos, R., Machida, R. J., Berumen, M. L., Knowlton, N. and Carvalho, S. 2018. Cross-shelf investigation of coral reef cryptic benthic organisms reveals diversity patterns of the hidden majority. Scientific Reports, 8: 8090 doi:10.1038/s41598-018-26332-5

    Rouzé, H., Leray, Matthieu, Magalon, H., Penin, L., Gélin, P., Knowlton, Nancy and Fauvelot, C. 2017. Molecular characterization reveals the complexity of previously overlooked coral-exosymbiont interactions and the implications for coral-guild ecology. Scientific Reports, 7 doi:10.1038/srep44923

    Webster, Michael S., Colton, Madhavi A., Darling, Emily S., Armstrong, Jonathan, Pinsky, Malin L., Knowlton, Nancy and Schindler, Daniel E. 2017. Who Should Pick the Winners of Climate Change?. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 32(3): 167-173. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2016.12.007

    Neal, Benjamin Paul, Khen, Adi, Treibitz, Tali, Beijbom, Oscar, O'Connor, Grace, Coffroth, Mary Alice, Knowlton, Nancy, Kriegman, David, Mitchell, B. G. and Kline, David I. 2017. Caribbean massive corals not recovering from repeated thermal stress events during 2005-2013. Ecology and Evolution, 7(5): 1339-1353. doi:10.1002/ece3.2706

    Krupnick, Gary A. and Knowlton, Nancy 2017. Earth Optimism: Success Stories in Plant Conservation. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 102(2): 331-340. doi:10.3417/D-16-00010A

    Brandl, Simon J., Casey, Jordan M., Knowlton, Nancy and Duffy, James Emmett 2017. Marine dock pilings foster diverse, native cryptobenthic fish assemblages across bioregions. Ecology and Evolution, 7(17): 7069-7079. doi:10.1002/ece3.3288

    Machida, Ryuji J., Leray, Matthieu, Ho, Shian-Lei and Knowlton, Nancy 2017. Metazoan mitochondrial gene sequence reference datasets for taxonomic assignment of environmental samples. Scientific Data, 4 doi:10.1038/sdata.2017.27

    Balmford, Andrew and Knowlton, Nancy 2017. Why Earth Optimism?. Science, 356(6335): 225 doi:10.1126/science.aan4082

    Hartmann, Aaron C., Baird, Andrew H., Knowlton, Nancy and Huang, Danwei 2017. The Paradox of Environmental Symbiont Acquisition in Obligate Mutualisms. Current Biology, 27(23): 3711-3716. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.10.036

    Altieri, Andrew H., Harrison, Seamus B., Seemann, Janina, Collin, Rachel, Diaz, Robert J. and Knowlton, Nancy 2017. Tropical dead zones and mass mortalities on coral reefs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(14): 3660-3665. doi:10.1073/pnas.1621517114

    Leray, Matthieu and Knowlton, Nancy 2016. Censusing marine eukaryotic diversity in the twenty-first century. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 371(1702) doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0331

    O'Dea, Aaron, Lessios, Harilaos A., Coates, Anthony G., Eytan, Ron I., Restrepo-Moreno, Sergio, Cione, Alberto L., Collins, Laurel S., de Queiroz, Alan, Farris, David W., Norris, Richard D., Stallard, Robert F., Woodburne, Michael O., Aguilera, Orangel, Aubry, Marie-Pierre, Berggren, William A., Budd, Ann F., Cozzuol, Mario A., Coppard, Simon E., Duque-Caro, Herman, Finnegan, Seth, Gasparini, German M., Grossman, Ethan L., Johnson, Kenneth G., Keigwin, Lloyd D., Knowlton, Nancy, et al 2016. Formation of the Isthmus of Panama. Science Advances, 2(8) doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600883

    Prada, Carlos, Hanna, Bishoy, Budd, Ann F, Woodley, Cheryl M, Schmutz, Jeremy, Grimwood, Jane, Iglesias-Prieto, Roberto, Pandolfi, John M, Levitan, Don, Johnson, Kenneth G, Knowlton, Nancy, Kitano, Hiroaki, DeGiorgio, Michael and Medina, Mónica 2016. Empty Niches after Extinctions Increase Population Sizes of Modern Corals. Current Biology, 26(23): 3190-3194. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.09.039

    Huang, Danwei, Arrigoni, Roberto, Benzoni, Francesca, Fukami, Hironobu, Knowlton, Nancy, Smith, Nathan D., Stolarski, Jaroslaw, Chou, Loke Ming and Budd, Ann F. 2016. Taxonomic classification of the reef coral family Lobophylliidae (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Scleractinia). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 178(3): 436-481. doi:10.1111/zoj.12391

    Al-Rshaidat, Mamoon, Snider, Allison, Rosebraugh, Sydney, Devine, Amanda M., Devine, Thomas D., Plaisance, Laetitia, Knowlton, Nancy and Leray, Matthieu 2016. Deep COI sequencing of standardized benthic samples unveils overlooked diversity of Jordanian coral reefs in the northern Red Sea. Genome, 59(9): 724-737. doi:10.1139/gen-2015-0208

    Marko, Peter B., Eytan, Ron I. and Knowlton, Nancy 2015. Do large molecular sequence divergences imply an early closure of the Isthmus of Panama?. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(43) doi:10.1073/pnas.1515048112

    Jacquet, Jennifer, Estes, James, Jackson, Jeremy, Johnson, Ayana E., Knowlton, Nancy, Mcclenachan, Loren, Pauly, Daniel and Sala, Enric 2015. Ocean Calamities: Hyped Litany or Legitimate Concern?. Bioscience, 65(8): 745-746. doi:10.1093/biosci/biv087

    Fisher, Rebecca, O’Leary, Rebecca A, Low-Choy, Samantha, Mengersen, Kerrie, Knowlton, Nancy, Brainard, Russell E and Caley, M. J. 2015. Species Richness on Coral Reefs and the Pursuit of Convergent Global Estimates. Current Biology, 25(4): 500-505. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.12.022

    Leray, Matthieu and Knowlton, Nancy 2015. DNA barcoding and metabarcoding of standardized samples reveal patterns of marine benthic diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(7): 2076-2081. doi:10.1073/pnas.1424997112

    LaJeunesse, Todd C., Lee, Sung Yeon, Gil-Agudelo, Diego, Knowlton, Nancy and Jeong, Hae Jin 2015. Symbiodinium necroappetens sp. nov. (Dinophyceae): an opportunist ‘zooxanthella’ found in bleached and diseased tissues of Caribbean reef corals. European Journal of Phycology, 50(2) doi:10.1080/09670262.2015.1025857

    Knowlton, Nancy and Leray, Matthieu 2015. Exploring Coral Reefs Using the Tools of Molecular Genetics. In: Birkeland, Charles, Coral Reefs in the Anthropocene. Springer Netherlands, pp.117-132.

    Bracken-Grissom, Heather, Collins, Allen Gilbert, Collins, Timothy, Crandall, Keith, Distel, Daniel, Dunn, Casey, Giribet, Gonzalo, Haddock, Steven, Knowlton, Nancy, Martindale, Mark, Medina, Monica, Messing, Charles, O'Brien, Stephen J., Paulay, Gustav, Putnam, Nicolas, Ravasi, Timothy, Rouse, Greg W., Ryan, Joseph F., Schulze, Anja, Worheide, Gert, Adamska, Maja, Bailly, Xavier, Breinholt, Jesse, Browne, William E., Diaz, M. Christina, et al 2014. The Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance (GIGA): Developing Community Resources to Study Diverse Invertebrate Genomes. Journal of Heredity, 105(1): 1-18. doi:10.1093/jhered/est084

    Huang, Danwei, Benzoni, Francesca, Fukami, Hironobu, Knowlton, Nancy, Smith, Nathan D. and Budd, Ann F. 2014. Taxonomic classification of the reef coral families Merulinidae, Montastraeidae, and Diploastraeidae (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Scleractinia). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 171(2): 277-355. doi:10.1111/zoj.12140

    Rocha, L. A., Aleixo, A., Allen, G., Almeda, F., Baldwin, Carole C., Barclay, M. V. L., Bates, J. M., Bauer, A. M., Benzoni, F., Berns, C. M., Berumen, M. L., Blackburn, D. C., Blum, S., Bolanos, F., Bowie, R. C. K., Britz, R., Brown, R. M., Cadena, C. D., Carpenter, K., Ceriaco, L. M., Chakrabarty, P., Chaves, G., Choat, J. H., Clements, K. D., Collette, Bruce B., et al 2014. Specimen collection: An essential tool. Science, 344(6186): 814-815. doi:10.1126/science.344.6186.814

    Connolly, Sean R., MacNeil, M. Aaron, Caley, M. Julian, Knowlton, Nancy, Cripps, Ed, Hisano, Mizue, Thibaut, Loic M., Bhattacharya, Bhaskar D., Benedetti-Cecchi, Lisandro, Brainard, Russell E., Brandt, Angelika, Bulleri, Fabio, Ellingsen, Kari E., Kaiser, Stefanie, Kroncke, Ingrid, Linse, Katrin, Maggi, Elena, O'Hara, Timothy D., Plaisance, Laetitia, Poore, Gary C. B., Sarkar, Santosh K., Satpathy, Kamala K., Schuckel, Ulrike, Williams, Alan and Wilson, Robin S. 2014. Commonness and rarity in the marine biosphere. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23): 8524-8529. doi:10.1073/pnas.1406664111

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