Justin Liefer

Assistant Professor


My research examines the microbial ecology and biogeochemistry of aquatic ecosystems. My focus is on phytoplankton and benthic algae, the diverse groups of microbes at the foundation of aquatic food webs. Much of my work aims to understand which traits of these microbes have the greatest impact on the composition of their communities as well as the overall health and function of aquatic ecosystems. My work utilizes a variety of methods including laboratory-based biochemical and biophysical techniques, field ecology studies, environmental modeling, and historical datasets. I also love to convey my enthusiasm for aquatic ecology and the chemical workings of our planet through my teaching, student mentorship, and community outreach efforts.


Please see my Google Scholar page for a full list of publications


B.Sc. Biology, Grand Valley State University (2005)

Ph.D. Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama (2012)

Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Alabama (2012-2013)

Postdoctoral Fellow, US Food and Drug Administration (2013-2014)

Postdoctoral Researcher, Mount Allison University (2014-2018)


Biology 3041 - Ecotoxicology, Fall

Biology 3361 – Coastal Marine Biology, Fall

Biology 1501 - Cell Biology, Winter

Biology 4371 - Advanced Topics in Marine Science, Winter


Current projects in my lab focus on:

  • The ecology of harmful freshwater cyanobacteria blooms
  • Understanding how the biochemical contents of phytoplankton shape global ocean processes
  • Comparing phytoplankton strategies for allocating and using phosphorus
  • The impact of algal communities and their nutritional content on mudflat ecosystems