Meta-community modelling of the Great Southern Reef


Primary: Assoc. Prof. Scott Ling (UTAS)

Co-Supervisor: Dr. Scott Condie (CSIRO)

Co-Supervisor: Dr. Katie Cresswell (UTAS)


Temperate and tropical reefs throughout the world are increasingly threatened by pollution, overfishing and climate change. In many locations these pressures are driving major shifts in ecological communities. While changes in coral reef systems have been studied intensively, temperate reefs have received less attention despite being the some of the most biologically diverse and geographically extensive marine habitats, providing a wide range of ecosystem services relating to fisheries, tourism and shoreline protection.

The Great Southern Reef (GSR) is an interconnected temperate marine system fringing more than 8,000 km of Australia’s southern coastline and encapsulates nearly all the nation’s major population centres from the Queensland/ New South Wales border, Victoria, around Tasmania and across South Australia to its sub-tropical limit in Western Australia. While the importance of this system is increasingly recognised, its interconnectedness remains largely unexplored. By applying meta-community modelling approaches (initially developed for the Great Barrier Reef), this PhD project will explore the connectedness of the Great Southern Reef and model the interplay of climate change, reef-based fisheries, protected species, and offshore infrastructure on its dynamics.


The project aims to establish a meta-community model for the Great Southern Reef and use this model to evaluate interventions and adaptation strategies for cumulative impacts on the Great Southern Reef. The project will develop realistic food web interactions and reef connectivity to provide a platform for testing alternative interventions and adaptation strategies under different climate change trajectories, including exploration of novel interventions. The project will also determine the existence of unifying drivers of reef community dynamics and scalability of various management actions across the different bioregions of the Great Southern Reef. Modelling will also be used to examine optimal systems of triage for safeguarding reefs under threat and for recovery of collapsed systems across the Great Southern Reef.


  1. Adapt an existing modelling framework to describe the temporal and spatial dynamics of the GSR ecosystem, integrating key physical and ecological processes.
  2. Calibrate the model against marine ecological datasets.
  3. Explore the range of potential GSR futures under alternative projections of climate, fishing and other ostensibly manageable human-pressures.
  4. Evaluate interventions aimed at protecting and/or restoring temperate reef communities, with the ultimate goal of ultimate goal of providing optimal management and governance options.


  1. An agent-based modelling framework, first developed for tropical reefs, will be adapted to represent the temperate reef systems of the GSR. It will incorporate key physical processes, such as warming trends, storm events, marine heatwaves, fishing pressure and oceanographic connectivity; as well as ecological interactions involving seaweeds, urchins, lobsters and fish that have a major influence on reef health and the provision of ecosystem services.
  2. The model will be calibrated against extensive datasets assembled over the past two decades for temperate reefs in southern Australia.
  3. The calibrated model will be used to: (i) integrate knowledge and information; (ii) explore potential futures under climate change; and (iii) evaluate the efficacy of alternative management and restoration strategies.

Essential Criteria:

  • First-class honours or equivalent in biology, ecology, mathematics or a related field of research.
  • Demonstrated proficiency in written and verbal English language.
  • High proficiency in coding and familiarity with ecological modelling approaches
  • Demonstrated ability to synthesise model outputs and produce peer-reviewed research publications

Desirable Criteria:

  • First-author publication in international peer-reviewed journal
  • Knowledge of reef ecosystem dynamics
  • Experience in modelling reef meta-populations / meta-communities / ecosystem dynamics
  • Experience in quantitative methods with proficiency in statistical software programs such as R and PRIMER.

NOTE: CSIRO top-up scholarship of an additional $10K stipend per annum, plus an additional $5K available over the course of the PhD for operating expenses (35k in total).

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
March 4, 2022