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Professor Steve Widdicombe

Professor Steve Widdicombe

Director of Science and Deputy Chief Executive

+44 (0)1752 633100 (switchboard)
"Working at PML for the past 30 years has been my dream job, allowing me to explore and unlock the ocean’s secrets. Armed with this knowledge I have sought to find solutions to some of our planet’s biggest environmental threats and so protect and conserve threatened marine species and ecosystems."

Steve is a marine ecologist with over 30 years of experience in using field observations and large manipulative experiments to address issues relating to marine ecology, climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem function.
He has been instrumental in developing the understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on the marine environment, is Co-Chair of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) Executive Council and helped to establish its North East Atlantic Hub. The GOA-ON is a collaborative international network with around 1,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, to detect and understand the drivers and impacts of ocean acidification. The network is fundamental to providing early warning of the impacts of ocean acidification on natural ecosystems, wild and aquaculture fisheries, coastal protection, tourism and local economies. Steve represented the GOA-ON on OSPAR’s Intersessional Correspondence Group on ocean acidification and was an author of the ocean acidification chapter in the 2023 Quality Status Report (Ocean Acidification (
He co-leads the UN Ocean Decade endorsed programme ‘Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability’ (GOA-ON : OARS), which aims to provide society with the observational and scientific evidence needed to sustainably identify, monitor, mitigate and adapt to ocean acidification; from local to global scales. Steve regularly contributes to high level policy discussions such as at the UN Climate Change meetings the UNFCCC COPs, as moderator of a 2022 UN Ocean Conference Dialogue; through Co-Chairing a previous CBD international expert group meeting and presenting at the CBD COP15.
He is currently a member of the UN Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) ad-hoc Technical Expert Group on Indicators for the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the UN Ocean Decade Conference (2024) Programme Committee and the UN 3rd World Ocean Assessment Pool of Experts.
In his role as Director of Science at Plymouth Marine Laboratory he oversees the delivery of timely and policy relevant scientific research, advice and solutions for a sustainable ocean future, covering marine life and processes at varying scales from local to global, from microscopic to space poles to tropics lakes to oceanic environments as well as the interaction with society. Before taking on his current role in 2019, he was the PML Head of Science for Marine Ecology and Biodiversity for 10 years.
Steve started his research career looking at the impacts of natural disturbance (bioturbation) on marine biodiversity and community structure, and he has continued this research theme ever since. In addition, much of his recent research has concentrated on the impacts of human induced stressors, such as climate change, ocean acidification and artificial light, on marine organisms and ecosystems. He has a particular interest in quantifying the effects of natural and anthropogenic disturbance on the structure, diversity and function of marine benthic communities and headed up and participated in several national and European funded projects.
As a marine scientist he has published 165 peer reviewed papers and book chapters, has a H-index of 53 (WoS), in addition to stakeholder and policy targeted publications, including author on the IOC UNESCO pilot State of the Ocean Report.

  • S Widdicombe, K Isensee, Y Artioli, JD Gaitan-Espitia, C Hauri, JA Newton, M Wells, S Dupont. 2023. Unifying biological field observations to detect and compare ocean acidification impacts across marine species and ecosystems: what to monitor and why. Ocean Science 19(1): 101-119. doi: 10.5194/os-19-101-2023
  • S Widdicombe, JI Spicer. 2008. Predicting the impact of ocean acidification on benthic biodiversity: What can animal physiology tell us? Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 366(1-2): 187-197. doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2008.07.024
  • HL Wood, JI Spicer, S Widdicombe. 2008. Ocean acidification may increase calcification rates, but at a cost. Proceeding of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences 275(1644): 1767-1773. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0343
  • P Calosi, S Melatunan, LM Turner, Y Artioli, RL Davidson, JJ Byrne, MR Viant, S Widdicombe, SD Rundle. 2017. Regional adaptation defines sensitivity to future ocean acidification. Nature Communications 8: 13994. doi:10.1038/ncomms13994
  • CA Vargas, NA Lagos, MA Lardies, C Duarte, PH ManrĂ­quez, V Aguilera, BR Broitman, S Widdicombe, S Dupont. 2017. Species-specific responses to ocean acidification should account for local adaptation and adaptive plasticity. Nature Ecology and Evolution 1(4): UNSP 0084. doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0084
  • JM Sunday, KE Fabricius, KJ Kroeker, KM Anderson, NE Brown, JP Barry, SD Connell, S Dupont, B Gaylord, JM Hall-Spencer, T Klinger, M Milazzo, PL Munday, BD Russell, E Sanford, V Thiyagarajan, MLH Vaughan, S Widdicombe, CDG Harley. 2017. Ocean acidification can mediate biodiversity shifts by changing biogenic habitat. Nature Climate Change 7(1): 81. doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE3161

Recent publications

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Sampling aboard the Plymouth Quest
Sampling aboard the Plymouth Quest