Paxton is a Research Marine Biologist at NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), where she focuses on coastal resilience and restoration. She quantifies ecological functions of created, restored, or impacted habitats to learn which interventions can best achieve intended ecological outcomes (e.g., coastal resilience, ecosystem services, community structure).
Paxton’s current research evaluates how natural and nature-based infrastructure (e.g., salt marshes, coral reefs, living shorelines) can boost coastal resilience. A major pillar of Paxton’s research is conducting regional and global syntheses to gain new insight from previously collected data. Earlier in her career, Paxton determined ecological functions of human-made reef habitats, including artificial reefs and historic shipwrecks, and tested whether artificial structures provide similar fish habitat to natural reefs.
Paxton began her career by earning a B.S. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia, where her undergraduate thesis on shipwreck ecology stemmed from her time as a NOAA Hollings Scholar. After working as a research technician at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs studying rocky reefs and kelp forests, she earned her PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied how reef fishes rely on rocky reefs, artificial reefs, and shipwrecks. Paxton conducted a joint postdoctoral fellowship with a nonprofit, a consortium of aquaria, and Duke University, studying reliance of a large coastal shark on artificial habitats before spending three years conducting research under contract to NCCOS through CSS-Inc.