Mick Follows, Ph.D.

Data analysis and modeling of ocean circulation and biogeochemical cycles in marine ecosystems


Mick Follows' group seeks to understand how interactions of physical, chemical and biological processes modulate the structure and function of marine microbial communities and regulate the oceanic cyc

Mick Follows, Ph.D.

Research Description

Mick Follows' group seeks to understand how interactions of physical, chemical and biological processes modulate the structure and function of marine microbial communities and regulate the oceanic cycles of carbon and nutrient elements on global and climate scales. To this end, we develop and apply idealized theory, numerical simulations and the analysis of observed data. What are the specific costs and benefits associated with key microbial traits, for example nitrogen fixation or calcification? How can we quantitatively describe these costs and benefits at the individual scale? To address such questions we are exploring physiological models of marine microbes that resolve the macro-molecular composition at the individual scale, balancing simplicity and transparency with explicit accounting for the flows of mass, electrons and energy which constrain metabolic capabilities. We are collaborating with the Finkel Lab at Mt. Allison University and the Sher Lab at the University of Haifa to provide empirical constraints for this framework. How do these individual characteristics shape relative fitness phenotypes and propagates from the individual scale, to populations, communities and global scale ecosystems? To this end, we are also exploring global-scale ocean simulations which acknowledge the tremendous diversity; a key characteristic of marine microbial populations.

Research Impact

Mathematical and numerical models provide a framework for synthesizing understanding and bringing to bear quantitative constraints on complicated and complex systems. In particular, we are seeking to bring additional biological constraints and information to bear on ocean ecosystem and biogeochemistry models, which typically still employ Monod or Droop kinetics to describe how organisms interact with their environments. These perspectives and aims share much common ground with a thrust for cross-scale systems biological interpretations of ecosystems in the ocean and on land.

Our simulations provide useful visualizations of the biogeography and organization of marine phytoplankton populations. We have collaborated with Dr. Jen Frazier of the San Francisco Exploratorium to produce a hands-on exhibit, seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, to provide the general public with a view of the organization of plankton populations on the global scale.

Media Press

New York Times - In New Home, Exploratorium Widens Its Interactive Appeal

MIT News - For the Good of the Colony

MIT News- Winners and Losers in a Warming Ocean


related links

Marine Microbiology Initiative Science Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Office of Sponsored Programs Back


Ph.D.,Atmospheric Sciences
University of East Anglia, 1991 

M.Sc., Atmospheric Sciences
University of East Anglia, 1987

B.Sc., Physics
University of Leeds, 1986


Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, 2013


Kempes, C. P., C. Okegbe, Z. Mears-Clarke, M. J. Follows, & L. E. Dietrich. (2014). Morphological optimization for access to dual oxidants in biofilms. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 111(1), 208-213. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1315521110

Ward, B. A., S. Dutkiewicz, & M. J. Follows. (2013). Modelling spatial and temporal patterns in size-structured marine plankton communities: top-down and bottom-up controls. Journal of Plankton Research, 36(1), 31-47. doi: 10.1093/plankt/fbt097

Clayton, S., S. Dutkiewicz, O. Jahn, & M. J. Follows. (2013). Dispersal, eddies, and the diversity of marine phytoplankton. Limnology & Oceanography: Fluids & Environments, 3(0), 182-197. doi: 10.1215/21573689-2373515

Ward, B. A., S. Dutkiewicz, C. M. Moore, & M. J. Follows. (2013). Iron, phosphorus, and nitrogen supply ratios define the biogeography of nitrogen fixation. Limnology and Oceanography, 58(6), 2059-2075. doi: 10.4319/lo.2013.58.6.2059

Affiliated Investigators