Dr Taylor has started her own lab group: www.taylorlab.science

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E-mail me: michelle.taylor(at)essex.ac.uk

Tweet me:@Dr_MTaylor

Research Interests

My research interests span the molecular to the ocean-level and have included studies on shallow and deep-water coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass. My main focus is the deep-sea and its benthic habitats (although I am increasingly interested in mesophotic coral reefs, another understudied ecosystem). The deep-sea is the largest habitat on the planet and arguably the least well known. Broadly I am interested in deep-sea ecosystems, what drives their biodiversity, and how we can limit human impacts in vulnerable habitats such as coral reefs, hydrothermal vents, and seamounts etc.

In the next five years, I see my research being focused in two areas:

  1. Deep-sea / marine connectivity – There are huge gaps in our understanding about how well deep-sea populations are connected, something crucial to any impact assessments undertaken on deep-sea ecosystems and, given expanding interests in deep-sea mining, and fisheries that increasingly focus on deep-sea areas, it is information both industry and conservationists/managers require.
  2. How speciation occurs, where it occurs and the mechanisms driving it – The basic processes that ultimately create diversity. The deep-sea is a highly diverse ecosystem and we have little to no understanding of why. The dawn of next generation sequencing means it is possible to study the genomics of speciation in the deep sea for the first time.

My current research is focused on deep-sea connectivity. I’m specifically interested in benthic ecosystems associated with seamounts and my focal areas include the northeast Atlantic, southwest Indian Ocean, mid-Atlantic and Southern Ocean. I’m also interested in the evolution and biogeography of deep-sea fauna. So far my work has centred on deep-sea corals; which was a natural progression from my years spent studying shallow water coral reefs. However, recent work also includes polychaetes (scale worms), brittlestars (ophiuroids) and sea cucumbers (holothurians).

Genetics are my tool of choice for targeting questions about evolution and speciation. My work so far has involved phylogenetics and barcoding and current work involves population genetics and next-generation sequencing (RAD-seq and RNA-seq).

Research Experience

Expeditions / sea time:

RRS Discovery. Biological curation. Collecting corals from the rarely studied deep waters of Greenland. May-Aug 2017

RRS James Cook. Principal Scientific Officer. Studying deep-sea mountains of the NE Atlantic and the connectivity of corals inhabiting them. May-June 2016

RRS James Clark Ross to study deep-water benthic ecosystems of the South Orkneys, Antarctica. Feb-March 2016

R/V Pangaea to the Chagos Archipelago to study genomics of coral reef predators, Nov 2015

JC-094 on the RRS James Cook as part of an expedition studying the geochemistry of fossil deep-sea corals across the mid-Atlantic. Oct – Dec 2013

JC-066 on the RRS James Cook studying seamounts in the SW Indian Ocean. Oct – Dec 2011

NBP 11-03 on the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer studying deep-sea corals of the Drake Passage. May-June 2011

Icefish survey for British Antarctic Survey (BAS) / MRAG Ltd on a Spanish fishing trawler around South Georgia


2016 – Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

2015 – Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

2011 – Ph.D from Imperial College, London. A CASE scholarship partnering MRAG and the Zoological Society of London studying phylogenetics and taxonomy of deep-sea octocoral by-catch from around South Georgia

2007 – M.Res in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation at Imperial College, London

2001 – Zoology BSc. (4 years) from the University of Leeds – 2:1 (1st in research thesis)


Jul. 2011-Present
Senior postdoctoral researcher. Department of Zoology, Oxford University.
Organising logistics and managing biological collections for expeditions to SW Indian Ocean and northeast Atlantic, undertaking research into deep-sea benthos collected, supporting research group students with their projects, tutoring undergraduates, and managing the group laboratory. Undertaking video analysis of deep-sea habitats and completing population genetics studies using RAD-seq.

Nov. 2005-Sep. 2006
Programme Officer. Fauna and Flora International, Cambridge, UK.
Managed Rapid Response Facility (RRF)-channelling emergency grants to threatened natural World Heritage Sites. Liaised with UNF, UNFIP, UNESCO and IUCN to fund and manage RRF into operational phase (past initial pilot). Managed, administered, technically supported and undertook in-country (Guinea and Liberia) partnership reviews for USAID grant – cross-sectoral conservation partnerships in post-conflict/ disaster areas.

Sep. 2003 – Jan. 2006
Director. Reefdoctor, Toliara, Madagascar and London, UK.
Established marine research programme (investigating fish species diversity, coral cover, fishery species abundance, size and diversity, monitoring coral spawning, and mapping coral and fishing areas, socioeconomic studies). Initiated a cooperative consortium of marine conservation NGOs. Supported the establishment of fishing associations and encouraged the creation of a community managed MPA. Raised funding for core ReefDoctor research and work.

Jul. 2001 – Sep. 2003
Marine Research Associate. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK.

Selected Publications

  • Taylor, M L. and Roterman, N. 2017. Invertebrate population genetics across Earth’s largest habitat: the deep-sea floor. Molecular Ecology, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mec.14237/full
  • Taylor, M.L. and Rogers, A.D. 2017. Primnoidae (Cnidaria: Octocorallia) of the SW Indian Ocean: new species, genus revisions and systematics. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
  • Taylor, M.L., Gwinnett, C., Robinson, L.F. and Woodall, L.C. 2016. Plastic microfibre ingestion by deep-sea organisms, Scientific Reports, 6, 33997. **Top 100 articles for Scientific Reports in 2016
  • Rogers, A.D., Kemp, K., Davies, A.J. & Taylor, M.L., 2016. The diseases of deep-water corals. In, Diseases of corals, First Edition. Eds. C.M. Woodley, C.A. Downs, A.W. Bruckner, J.W. Porter and S.B. Galloway, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published. Chap. 32, 416-441 pp.
  • Serpetti N., Taylor, M.L, Brennan, D., Green, D.H., Rogers, A.D., Paterson, G.L.J & Narayanaswamy, B.E. 2016. Ecological adaptations and commensal evolution of the Polynoidae (Polychaeta) in the Southwest Indian Ocean Ridge: a phylogenetic approach. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2016.06.004
  • Yesson, C., Bedford, F., Rogers, A.D. & Taylor, M.L. 2016. The global distribution of deep-water Antipatharia habitat. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography.
  • Meeuwig, J.J, Birkmanis, C.A., Bernasconi, M., Hehre, J., Taylor, M.L, Thompson, C., & Tickler, D. 2015. Expedition Report for the Pangaea Chagos Initiative, November-December 2015. Report to Teach Green and the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 17 pp.
  • Taylor, M.L. Rogers, A.R. 2015. Evolutionary dynamics of a common sub-Antarctic octocoral family, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 84:185-204
  • Curnick, D.J., Head, C. Huang, D., Crabbe, M.J.C., Gollock, M., Hoeksema, B., Johnson, K.G., Jones, R. Koldewey, H.J., Obura, D., Rosen, B.R., Smith, D.J., Taylor, M.L., Turner, J.R., Wren, S. and Redding, D.W. 2015. Setting evolutionary-based conservation priorities for a phylogenetically data-poor taxonomic group (Scleractinia). Animal Conservation, doi:10.1111/acv.12185.
  • Taylor. M.L., Yesson, C., Agnew, D.J., Mitchell, R.B. Rogers, A.D. 2013. Using fisheries by-catch data to predict octocoral habitat suitability around South Georgia. Journal of Biogeography, 40: 1688-1701.
  • Taylor, M.L., Cairns, S.D., Agnew, D.J. and Rogers, A.D. 2013. A revision of the genusThouarella Gray, 1870 (Octocorallia: Primnoidae), including illustrated artificial key, species redescriptions and a new species description. Zootaxa. 3602 (1):1-105.
  • Yesson, C., Tittensor, D.P., Taylor, M.L., Davies, A.J., Guinotte, J. Black, Hall-Spencer, J., Baco-Taylor, A., Rogers, A.D. 2012. Global distribution and habitat preferences of deep-water octocorals. Journal of Biogeography.
  • Yesson, C., Clark, M.R., Taylor, M.L., Rogers, A.D. 2011. The global distribution of seamounts based on 30-second bathymetry data, Deep-Sea Research Part I, 58(4): 442-453.
  • Wabnitz, C.C.C., Taylor, M.L., Green. E., and Razak, T. 2003. From Ocean to Aquaria: The Global Trade in Live Marine Ornamentals. UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK.
  • Green, E. and Short, F. 2003. World Atlas of Seagrasses. Cartographer, C. Ravilious, Scientific editor, M. Taylor. University of California Press, USA. 304 pp.
  • Spalding, M., Taylor, M., Ravilious, C. Short, F. and Green, E. 2003. Global overview: The Distribution and Status of Seagrasses. In, E. Green, and F, Short. World Atlas of Seagrasses. University of California Press, USA, pp.13-34.
  • Taylor, M., Ravilious, C. and Green, E.P. 2003. Mangroves of East Africa. UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK. 24pp.
  • Brooks, S., Spencer, T., Teleki, K. and Taylor, M. 2002. International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) European Meeting, 4th-7th September 2002, Cambridge U.K. Abstracts volume.

Secured Funding / Support

Large Research Grant from the British Ecological Society – 19,635.61GBP. Aug 2016- Aug 2017.

John Fell Fund application for my time and research costs for July 2015-July 2016, 73100.94GBP

Financial support for attendance of the 10th Marine Ecological and Evolutionary Genomics summer course in Roscoff (2014) and attendance of the Restriction-site Associated DNA (RAD) Data Analysis workshop at the iEOS2014 environmental genomics conference

Support in-kind from the NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility (NBAF)

Grant from the Systematics Research Fund (Linnean Society and the Systematics Association, 2013)

The Explorer’s Club grant (2012)

SYNTHESYS (EU/Paris Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 2012)

Lerner Gray Grant for Marine Research (American Natural History Museum, 2011)

Percy Sladen Memorial Fund (Linnean Society of London, 2011)

TransAntarctic Association grant (2011)

Daisy Balough Travel Award (Institute of Zoology, London, 2010)

Gino Watkins Memorial Fund grant (Scott Polar Research Institute, 2011)

Edith Mary Pratt Musgrave Fund (Univ. of Cambridge, 2008)

Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology scholarship to attend workshop (2007)