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Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Dr Robert Ellis

Dr Robert Ellis

Senior Lecturer - Ecophysiology and Sustainable Aquaculture


 +44 (0)1392 726958

 Hatherly C5


Hatherly Building, University of Exeter, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4PS, UK


My research focuses on adaptation and acclimation in animals exposed to environmental change. Specifically I am driven by the question of how a mechanistic understanding of animal physiology can be used to improve the productivity and sustainability of aquaculture in a wide range of production settings. This also extends to understanding how aquaculture can be used to help secure future marine ecosystems in the face of climate change impacts. During my career I have developed an interdisciplinary range of expertise in animal physiology, immunology, metabolomics, developmental biology, ecotoxicology, marine chemistry, climate change ecology and aquaculture.

Broad research specialisms

Physiology, host-pathogen interactions, marine invertebrates, climate change, ocean acidification, sustainable aquaculture, aquaculture ecosystems


2013 PhD Ecological Physiology, University of Plymouth

2007 BSc Marine Biology, University of Plymouth


2021 - present Senior Lecturer, Biosciences, University of Exeter

2018 – 2021 Proleptic Lecturer, Biosciences, University of Exeter

2018 – 2021 NERC Industrial Innovation Fellow, University of Exeter

2015 – 2017 BBSRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Exeter

2014 – 2015 Senior Research Scientist, PML Applications, Plymouth

2012 – 2014 NERC Postdoctoral Research Assistant, University of Exeter

Research group links

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Research interests

I am an integrative ecological physiologist with a keen interest in how organisms adapt to an ever changing environment, natural or man-made. In particular, I am interested in how stressors such as pollution, high pCO2 and temperature interact to affect an organism’s physiology and disease resistance. My research to date has thus focused on four main themes: 1) the impact of environmental change on early invertebrate development, 2) the trade-off between disease resistance and physiological functioning, 3) the consequences of changing seawater chemistry and increasing temperature for commercially important marine invertebrate and finfish species and 4) the optimization of intensive aquaculture practices, using organism physiology to inform system management and improve sustainability. Sitting at the juncture of two critically important but traditionally disparate fields my research therefore addresses two of the greatest challenges facing society in the 21st century.

Research projects

NERC Industrial Innovation Fellowship – ‘Flexing your mussels: Futureproofing shellfish aquaculture in the face of global climate change’,

During this project I will employ next-generation sequencing technology to develop a high-density genotyping tool (SNP array) for blue mussels, the largest aquaculture sector (36% of total volume) in the EU. By employing this technology alongside measures of whole organism physiology, I will address the overarching question does hybridisation confer an advantage to multi-stressor exposures in a commercially and globally important bivalve species? Providing a unique, industry-relevant, resource this project will also significantly advance understanding of selective breeding and enhance the sustainable development of mussel aquaculture in the 21st century. This fellowship partners with Dr Ross Houston (Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh), Dr Anne Todgham (UC Davis, California) and Dr Mauricio Urbina (University of Concepcion, Chile), as well as John Holmyard (Offshore Shellfish, Brixham) and Myles Blood-Smyth (The Exmouth Mussel Company). It will also develop new partnerships with mussel producers and academics across Europe, North America and Chile.

Research grants

2023 Seafood Innovation Fund – Follow-on R&D: ‘SeaMist: a high yielding, low impact land-based seaweed cultivation system’ (Co-I: 18 months; £166,873)

2022 UKRI Transforming Food Production: ‘Transformational blueprint for a blue economy on UK terrestrial farms: integrating sustainable shrimp production in a changing agricultural landscape’ (Co-I: 3 years; £2.47M)

2022 UNDP Ocean Innovation Challenge 2nd call: ‘Caribbean spiny lobster – developing innovative fisheries management and aquaculture practices to sustain ecosystems and livelihoods’ (PI: 2 years; $250,000). Partnered with Cape Eleuthera Institute, the Bahamas and the National Lobster Hatchery, UK

2022 Seafood Innovation Fund – Feasibility study: ‘SeaMist: a high yielding, low impact land-based seaweed cultivation system’ (Co-I: 9 months; £42,016)

2022 Australian Research Council Discovery Project: ‘Some like it hot: invasive species, hybridization, and a warming ocean’. (Co-I: 3 years; AUS$ 603,516). Partnered with University of Queensland & Deakin University, Australia, University of Vermont, USA and University of Montpellier, France.

2021 Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund: ‘Spiny Lobster: Community Driven Conservation’. (PI: 2 years; US$50,000). Partnered with Cape Eleuthera Institute, the Bahamas and the National Lobster Hatchery, UK

2020 NERC Global Partnership Seedcorn Fund: ‘A global partnership to understand the fate of native, invasive and hybrid mussels in a warming ocean’ (PI: 2 years: £93,993)

2019 European Maritime Fisheries Fund: ‘Developing genetic tools to support a sustainable UK spiny lobster fishery’ (Co-I: 1 year; £55,402)

2018 Natural Environment Research Council Industrial Innovation Fellowship - 'Flexing your mussels: Futureproofing shellfish aquaculture in the face of global climate change' (PI: 3.5 yrs; £531k)

2018 Royal Society Cost Share China program, partnered with Yellow Seas Fisheries Research Institute - 'Impacts of environmental factors on the growth of shrimp and virulence of important pathogens' (Co-I: 2 yrs; £12k)

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Journal articles

Stentiford GD, Tyler CR, Ellis RP, Bean TP, MacKenzie S, Brugere C, Holt CC, Peeler EJ, Christison KW, Rushton J, et al (2023). Defining and averting syndemic pathways in aquaculture: a major global food sector. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 7 Abstract.
Nascimento‐Schulze JC, Bean TP, Peñaloza C, Paris JR, Whiting JR, Simon A, Fraser BA, Houston RD, Bierne N, Ellis RP, et al (2023). SNP discovery and genetic structure in blue mussel species using low coverage sequencing and a medium density 60 K SNP‐array. Evolutionary Applications, 16(5), 1044-1060. Abstract.
Coram A, Abreo NAS, Ellis RP, Thompson KF (2021). Contribution of social media to cetacean research in Southeast Asia: illuminating populations vulnerable to litter. Biodiversity and Conservation, 30(8-9), 2341-2359. Abstract.
Millard RS, Ellis RP, Bateman KS, Bickley LK, Tyler CR, van Aerle R, Santos EM (2021). How do abiotic environmental conditions influence shrimp susceptibility to disease? a critical analysis focussed on White Spot Disease. J Invertebr Pathol, 186 Abstract.  Author URL.
Nascimento-Schulze JC, Bean TP, Houston RD, Santos EM, Sanders MB, Lewis C, Ellis RP (2021). Optimizing hatchery practices for genetic improvement of marine bivalves. Reviews in Aquaculture, 13(4), 2289-2304. Abstract.
Mourabit S, Fitzgerald JA, Ellis RP, Takesono A, Porteus CS, Trznadel M, Metz J, Winter MJ, Kudoh T, Tyler CR, et al (2019). New insights into organ-specific oxidative stress mechanisms using a novel biosensor zebrafish. Environment International, 133 Abstract.
Tannenbaum C, Ellis RP, Eyssel F, Zou J, Schiebinger L (2019). Sex and gender analysis improves science and engineering. Nature, 575(7781), 137-146.
Ellis RP, Davison W, Queirós AM, Kroeker KJ, Calosi P, Dupont S, Spicer JI, Wilson RW, Widdicombe S, Urbina MA, et al (2017). Does sex really matter? Explaining intraspecies variation in ocean acidification responses. Biology Letters, 13(2). Abstract.
Campbell AL, Ellis RP, Urbina MA, Mourabit S, Galloway TS, Lewis C (2017). Impacts of ocean acidification on sperm develop with exposure time for a polychaete with long lived sperm. Mar Environ Res, 129, 268-276. Abstract.  Author URL.
Ellis RP, Urbina MA, Wilson RW (2017). Lessons from two high CO2 worlds – future oceans and intensive aquaculture. Global Change Biology, 23(6), 2141-2148. Abstract.
Lewis C, Ellis RP, Vernon E, Elliot K, Newbatt S, Wilson RW (2016). Ocean acidification increases copper toxicity differentially in two key marine invertebrates with distinct acid-base responses. Sci Rep, 6 Abstract.  Author URL.
Ellis RP, Widdicombe S, Parry H, Hutchinson TH, Spicer JI (2015). Pathogenic challenge reveals immune trade-off in mussels exposed to reduced seawater pH and increased temperature. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 462, 83-89.
Ellis RP, Spicer JI, Byrne JJ, Sommer U, Vian MR, White DA, Widdicombe S (2014). <SUP>1</SUP>H NMR Metabolomics Reveals Contrasting Response by Male and Female Mussels Exposed to Reduced Seawater pH, Increased Temperature, and a Pathogen. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, 48(12), 7044-7052.  Author URL.
Ellis RP, Spicer JI, Byrne JJ, Sommer U, Viant MR, White DA, Widdicombe S (2014). <sup>1</sup>H NMR metabolomics reveals contrasting response by male and female mussels exposed to reduced seawater pH, increased temperature, and a pathogen. Environmental Science and Technology, 48(12), 7044-7052. Abstract.
Pope EC, Ellis RP, Scolamacchia M, Scolding JWS, Keay A, Chingombe P, Shields RJ, Wilcox R, Speirs DC, Wilson RW, et al (2014). European sea bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, in a changing ocean. Biogeosciences, 11(9), 2519-2530. Abstract.
Asplund ME, Baden SP, Russ S, Ellis RP, Gong N, Hernroth BE (2014). Ocean acidification and host-pathogen interactions: Blue mussels, Mytilus edulis, encountering Vibrio tubiashii. Environmental Microbiology, 16(4), 1029-1039. Abstract.
Campbell AL, Mangan S, Ellis RP, Lewis C (2014). Ocean acidification increases copper toxicity to the early life history stages of the polychaete Arenicola marina in artificial seawater. Environ Sci Technol, 48(16), 9745-9753. Abstract.  Author URL.
Pope EC, Ellis RP, Scolamacchia M, Scolding JWS, Keay A, Chingombe P, Shields RJ, Wilcox R, Speirs DC, Wilson RW, et al (2013). Is the perceived resiliency of fish larvae to ocean acidification masking more subtle effects?. Abstract.
Asplund ME, Baden SP, Russ S, Ellis RP, Gong N, Hernroth BE (2013). Ocean acidification and host-pathogen interactions: Blue mussels, Mytilus edulis, encountering Vibrio tubiashii. Environmental Microbiology
Callaway R, Shinn AP, Grenfell SE, Bron JE, Burnell G, Cook EJ, Crumlish M, Culloty S, Davidson K, Ellis RP, et al (2012). Review of climate change impacts on marine aquaculture in the UK and Ireland. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 22(3), 389-421. Abstract.
Ellis RP, Parry H, Spicer JI, Hutchinson TH, Pipe RK, Widdicombe S (2011). Immunological function in marine invertebrates: Responses to environmental perturbation. Fish & Shellfish Immunology, 30(6), 1209-1222.
Ellis RP, Bersey J, Rundle SD, Hall-Spencer JM, Spicer JI (2009). Subtle but significant effects of CO2 acidified seawater on embryos of the intertidal snail, Littorina obtusata. Aquatic Biology, 5, 41-48.

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Michael Bowleg
  • Katharine Clayton
  • Jennifer Nascimento Schulze
  • Louisa Williams

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