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Francesco Ferretti

Assistant Professor
Assistant Professor Francesco Ferretti
Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech
310 West Campus Drive
Cheatham Hall, Room 106
Blacksburg, VA 24061
  • Office Phone: 540-231-2893
  • Cell Phone: 831-233-4905

University Laurea degree, Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy (2003)
Ph.D. ,  Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada (2010)


I am interested in characterizing the history of human impact in the ocean, understand how this impact has altered marine ecosystems, and develop solutions for a sustainable use of marine resources. My research spans from macro-ecology to applied management and conservation (I have a particular interest in sharks and their relatives). It focuses on dynamics from single species to whole ecosystems, and revolves around three main scientific approaches: 1) inferring ecological processes from limited and disparate data; 2) filling the data gap characterizing many ecological systems by exploiting unconventional sources of information; and 3) using data science methods, big data, and new technology to address pressing ecological issues and develop ocean solutions.

Fisheries Management and Conservation starting in January 2020 

From Historical Ecology to Ecoinformatics

The guiding principle of my research is using all possible sources of information to address challenging ecological questions, especially in the ocean where data are limited and expensive. This often entails data mining and archival digging, historical investigations, and the analysis of unconventional data. I exploit meta-analysis, Bayesian methods, and hierarchical modeling for integrating numerous and heterogeneous data sources; and use tools in computer and data science to acquire, manage and process this information.

Reconstructing the History of Mediterranean Sawfish Populations. Through archival digging, literature analyses, and extinction models, we provided evidence for the historical occurrence and subsequent extinction of two sawfish species in the Mediterranean Sea (Pristis pristis and Pristis pectinata) (Ferretti et al. 2016). This research challenged established tenets on sawfish ecology and biogeography, and led to a larger collaborative initiative for investigating on the structure, distribution, phylogeny, and biogeography of recently extinct sawfish populations. Within this project, we are conducting morphometric, genetic and isotopic analyses of sawfish materials from Mediterranean, European and Western African museums, to characterize the identity and structure of extinct Mediterranean sawfish and neighboring Atlantic populations.

From Data Deficient to Big Data. One of the biggest hurdles of shark conservation is the lack of data on abundance and distribution of about half of their species. To address this challenge we have developed sharkPulse, a modular crowd-sourcing platform combining smartphone technology, web applications, social network/website crawling, computer vision, and machine learning for generating a large image-based sighting database for sharks. The goal is warehousing shark images available on the web and personal archives, and transform them into occurrence records. This platform aims to show how citizen science can be harnessed to produce big data, inform ecological science and promote conservation. 

Big Data and New Technology for Ocean Solutions

Toward Ocean Transparency. Illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) and resource overexploitation are among the biggest threats the ocean is facing today. Tackling these issues has been historically challenging because of inaccurate and incomplete fisheries statistics. In collaboration with the Global Fishing Watch, Google and other academic partners, I am analyzing a new global database of satellite tracking data for marine vessels to understand global patterns of high-seas fishing and how they interact with large pelagic fish and sharks. Specifically, I am combining these data with statistics of regional fisheries management organizations, reconstructed historical catch and effort data, and animal telemetry data to study drivers and dynamics of high-seas exploitation, overlaps between fish and fisheries’ domains, and cross-validate remotely sensed fishing fleet data with recorded fisheries statistics.  

Management and Conservation Role of LMPA. Very large marine protected areas (LMPA > 75,000 km2) are increasingly popular to protect the last strongholds of biodiversity in the ocean and promote recovery of heavily exploited regions. Yet not all agree on their value for management and conservation. Challenges are demonstrating that positive outcomes observed in smaller coastal MPAs also occur at such large scales and that monitoring and enforcement over vast and remote oceanic regions are possible. Through the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, an international collaborative initiative focused on the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory, I am investigating on the structure and function of pristine coral reef ecosystems, the impact of large marine protected areas on the management and conservation of sharks and other broad-ranging marine megafauna, the fundamental spatial ecology of these animals, and the effectiveness of mega-reserves in remote oceanic regions.

Ocean Intelligence. With an interdisciplinary team of biologists, oceanographers, naval and aerospace engineers, I am working on developing a set of innovative systems integrating new satellite tag technology, autonomous drones, machine learning, and big data, to detect illegal fishing in remote large marine reserves and the high-seas.

Ecological consequences of removing predators in the ocean

Characterizing the ecosystem consequences of removing predators in the ocean is one of the biggest challenges of marine ecology. Large-scale ecological processes are influenced by a multitude of physical, anthropogenic and biological interactions, and large predator dynamics can unfold over centuries and oceanic regions. Furthermore, ecosystem models are often based on direct consumptive species interactions and ignore non-lethal or behaviorally mediated mechanisms (risk effects). These processes are increasingly recognized as fundamental in controlled experiments but are still unframed over large oceanic scales. To address this challenge, I am using an integrative and meta-analytical approach on observational studies. That is using all possible sources of available data and recognizing principles of manipulative experiments in natural or perturbed settings at local, regional and global scales. 

  • Ferretti, F., Jacoby, D., Pfleger, M., White, T., Dent, F., Micheli, F., Rosenberg, A., Crowder, L., Block, B. 2020. Shark Fin Trade Bans and Sustainable Shark Fisheries. Conservation Letters.

  • Moro, S., Jona-Lasinio, G., Block, B., Micheli, F., De Leo, G., Bottaro, M., Scacco, U., Serena, F. and Ferretti, F. 2019. Patterns of abundance and distribution of the white shark in the Mediterranean Sea. Fish and Fisheries, 21(2): 338-349.

  • Queiroz, N., Humphries, N.E., Couto, A., Vedor, M., Da Costa, I., Sequeira, A.M.M., Mucientes, G.,  Santos, A.M., Ferretti, F. et al. 2019. Global spatial risk assessment of sharks under the footprint of fisheries. Nature.

  • Jorgensen, S. J., Anderson, S., Ferretti, F., Tietz, J., Chapple, T., Kanive, P., Bradley, R., Moxley, J. and Block, B. A.  2019. Killer whales redistribute white shark foraging pressure on elephant seals. Nature Scientific Reports, 9, 6153.

  • White, T., Ferretti, F., Kroodsma, D., Hazen, E., Carlisle, A., Scales, K., Bogard, S. and Block, B. 2019. Predicted hotspots of overlap between highly migratory fishesand industrial fishing fleets in the Northeast Pacific. Science Advances, 5 (3), eaau3761.

  • Kroodsma, D., Mayorga, J., Hochberg, T., Miller, N.A., Boerder, K., Ferretti, F., Wilson, A., Bergman, B., White, T.D., Block, B.A., Woods, P., Sullivan, B., Costello, C., and Worm, B. 2018. Response to Comment on “Tracking the global footprint of fisheries”. Science, 361 (6404), eaat7789.

  • Ferretti F, Curnick D., Liu, K., Romanov E and Block B.A. 2018. Shark baselines and the conservation role of remote coral reef ecosystems. Science Advances, 4: eaaq0333.

  • Kroodsma, D., Mayorga, J., Hochberg, T., Miller, N.A., Boerder, K., Ferretti, F., Wilson, A., Bergman, B., White, T.D., Block, B.A., Woods, P., Sullivan, B., Costello, C., and Worm, B. 2018. Tracking the Global Footrpint of Fisheries. Science, 359 (6378), 904-908.

  • Novaglio, C.*, Ferretti, F., Smith, T. and Frusher, S. 2016. Species-area relationships as indicators of human impact on fish communities. Diversity and Distribution. DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12482

  • Ferretti, F., Morey, G., Seret, B., Sprem, J.S. & Micheli, F. 2016. Falling through the cracks: the fading history of a large iconic predator. Fish and Fisheries, 7(3), 875–889. DOI: 10.1111/faf.12108

  • Ferretti F., Jorgensen, S., Chapple, T., De Leo, G. and Micheli, F. Reconciling predator conservation with public safety. 2015. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 13(8), 412–417. DOI: 10.1890/150109

  • Britten, G. L.*, Dowd, M., Minto, C., Ferretti, F., Boero, F. & Lotze, H. K. 2014. Predator decline leads to decreased stability in a coastal fish community. Ecology Letters, 17 (12): 1518-1525.

  • Ferretti, F., C. G. Osio, C. Jenkins, A. A. Rosenberg, & H. K. Lotze. 2013. Long-term ecological change in a meso-predator community in response to prolonged human disturbance.  Nature Scientific Reports, 3(1057): doi:10.1038/srep01057.

  • McClenachan, L., Ferretti, F., & Baum, J. 2012. From archives to conservation: why historical data are needed to set baselines for marine animals and ecosystems. Conservation Letters, 5(5): 349-359.

  • Ferretti, F., B. Worm, G. Britten*, M. Heithaus and H. Lotze. 2010. Patterns of shark decline and ecosystem consequences in the ocean. Ecology Letters, 13: 1055-1071.

  • Ferretti, F., R.A. Myers, F. Serena and H.K. Lotze. 2008. Loss of large predatory sharks from the Mediterranean Sea. Conservation Biology, 22(4): 952-964.

    For full publication list please see: