Frances Wilkerson


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Wilkerson headshot
Adjunct Professor of Biology
Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography
(415) 338-3519


Research Interests
I am a Biological Oceanographer studying nutrient and phytoplankton interactions in the sea, especially those involving diatoms and eutrophic regions such as coastal upwelling and estuarine ecosystems. More specifically my research concerns nitrogen cycling in aquatic systems, and how fluxes of nitrate and ammonium affect phytoplankton, primary production and the biological pump. As such, it is linked with oceanic carbon fluxes and global climate change cycling. It also covers impacts related to anthropogenic nutrients, harmful algae and wetland systems. The research involves measuring nutrient uptake and assimilation using both traditional isotopic tracer approaches and some molecular genetics tools. Study sites include San Francisco Bay, coastal California and the equatorial Pacific. I am also interested in the role symbiotic algae play in marine symbioses, for example, zooxanthellae that reside in jellyfish, giant clams and anemones. 

Selected Papers

Kraus et al. ((incl.Wilkerson). 2017 A river-scale Lagrangian experiment examining controls on phytoplankton dynamics in the presence and absence of treated wastewater effluent high in ammonium. Limnology and Oceanography 62: 1234-1253.

Wilkerson, F.P. and R. C. Dugdale. 2016. The ammonium paradox of a high nutrient low chlorophyll estuary. In: Aquatic Microbial Ecology and Biogeochemistry: A Dual Perspective” (P.M. Glibert and T.M. Kana (ed), Springer.

Glibert, P.M., F.P. Wilkerson, R.C. Dugdale, J. A. Raven, C. Dupont, P.R. Leavitt, A.E. Parker, J.M. Burkholder, T.M. Kana. 2016. Pluses and minuses of ammonium and nitrate uptake and assimilation by phytoplankton and implications for productivity and community composition, with emphasis on nitrogen-enriched conditions. Limnology and Oceanography 61: 165-197.

Wilkerson, F.P., R.C. Dugdale, A.E. Parker, S.B. Blaser, A. Pimenta. 2015. Nutrient uptake and primary productivity in an urban estuary: using rate measurements to evaluate phytoplankton response to different hydrological and nutrient conditions. Aquatic Ecology 49(2): 211-233.

Lee, J., A.E. Parker, F.P. Wilkerson, R.C. Dugdale. 2015. Kinetics and inhibition of nitrogen uptake in Microcystis aeruginosa: results from cultures and field assemblages in the San Francisco Bay Delta, CA. Harmful Algae 47: 126-140.

Cohen. R., F.P. Wilkerson, A.E. Parker, E.C. Carpenter. 2014. Ecosystem scale rates of primary production within wetland habitats of the northern San Francisco Estuary. Wetlands 34: 759-774. doi 10.1007/s13157-014-0540-3

Glibert, P.M., F.P. Wilkerson, R. C. Dugdale, A. E. Parker, J. Alexander, S. Blaser, S. Murasko. 2014. Phytoplankton communities from San Francisco Bay Delta respond differently to oxidized and reduced nitrogen substrates- even under conditions that would otherwise suggest nitrogen sufficiency. Frontiers in Marine Science. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2014.00017

Glibert P.M., R.C. Dugdale, F.P. Wilkerson, A.E. Parker, J.A. Alexander, E.A. Antell, S. Blaser, A. Johnson, J Lee, T. Lee, S. Murasko, S. Strong 2014. Major – but rare – spring blooms in 2014 in San Francisco Bay Delta, California, a result of the long-term drought, increased residence time, and altered nutrient loads and forms. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 460: 8–18.

Buck, C., F.P. Wilkerson, A.E. Parker, R.C. Dugdale. 2013. The influence of coastal nutrients on phytoplankton productivity in a shallow low inlet estuary, Drakes Estero, California (USA). Estuaries and Coasts 37: 847-863. 10.1007/s12237-013-9737-6

Dugdale, R.C., F.P. Wilkerson, A.E. Parker, A. Marchi, and K. Taberski. 2012 River flow and ammonium discharge determine spring phytoplankton blooms in an urbanized estuary. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 115: 187-199

Parker, A.E., V.E. Hogue, F.P. Wilkerson and R.C. Dugdale. 2012 The effect of inorganic speciation on primary production in the San Francisco Estuary. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 104: 91-101.

Parker, A.E., R. C. Dugdale, F.P. Wilkerson. 2012. Elevated ammonium concentrations from wastewater discharge depress primary productivity in the Sacramento River and the Northern San Francisco Estuary. Marine Pollution Bulletin 64: 574-586

Parker, A.E., F. Wilkerson, R.C. Dugdale, A. Marchi, V. Hogue, M. Landry and A.G. Taylor. 2010. Spatial patterns of nitrogen uptake and phytoplankton in the equatorial upwelling zone (110ºW–140ºW) during 2004 and 2005. Deep Sea Research. II doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2010.08

Wilkerson, F.P. R.C. Dugdale, A. Marchi, V. Hogue, A. Lassiter.  2006. The phytoplankton bloom response to wind events and upwelled nutrients during the CoOP-WEST study. Deep-Sea Research II 53: 3023-3048

Wilkerson, F.P., R.C. Dugdale, V.E. Hogue and A. Marchi. 2006. Phytoplankton blooms and nitrogen productivity in San Francisco estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 29: 401-416.

Armbrust et al., (incl.Wilkerson). 2004. The genome of the diatom  Thalassiosira pseudonana-ecology, evolution and metabolism. Science. 306: 79-86.