Justin Liefer

Assistant Professor


Microalgae and cyanobacteria are the foundation of most aquatic ecosystems and are some of the most abundant organisms on the planet. These incredibly diverse organisms form complex phytoplankton and benthic communities that provide the ultimate source of food for aquatic life and also greatly impact the chemistry of aquatic systems. My research explores the physiology of microalgae and cyanobacteria to understand how their communities are formed and how they will respond to changing environmental conditions. I am also interested in the chemical impacts of microalgae and cyanobacteria on aquatic systems ranging from their role as key mediators of global biogeochemical cycles to the ecological effects of a single toxin produced by one species. 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 and student mentorship as well as through community outreach and citizen science efforts.


  • Liefer, J.D., Garg, A., Campbell, D.A., Irwin, A.J., Finkel, Z.V. 2018. Nitrogen starvation induces distinct photosynthetic responses and recovery dynamics in diatoms and prasinophytes. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0195705.
  • Liefer, J.D., MacIntyre, H.L., Burnett, W.C., Su, N. 2014. Seasonal alternation between groundwater discharge and benthic coupling as nutrient sources in a shallow coastal lagoon. Estuaries and Coasts 37: 925-940.
  • Liefer, J.D., Robertson, A., MacIntyre, H.L. 2013. Characterization of a toxic Pseudo-nitzschia spp. bloom in the northern Gulf of Mexico associated with domoic acid accumulation in fish. Harmful Algae 26: 20-32.


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


  • Diversity and dynamics of phytoplankton macromolecules
  • Linking phytoplankton macromolecules to ocean elemental cycles
  • Phytoplankton photosynthetic responses to nutrient stress
  • Toxin production by harmful algal blooms
  • Accumulation of algal toxins in aquatic food webs