Temperate Reefs

Ecological dynamics of the Great Southern Reef

Australia's southern coastline, from Brisbane to Perth, is fringed by rocky reefs dominated by kelp forests. These underwater forests create structurally complex habitats which support hugely productive food-webs with high levels of biodiversity and endemism. External stressors can however trigger a decline in the habitat-forming species which can cause a phase shift of these complex and biodiverse ecosystems to structurally simple, less diverse and less productive states. Understanding the ecological dynamics of habitat-forming forming species and their associated communities is therefore critical in ensuring the future health and productivity of the Great Southern Reef.

Ecophysiology of seaweeds

Seaweeds are primary producers that form the base of the coastal food web, providing food and habitat to invertebrates (e.g. shellfish, sea urchins) and fish.  Seaweed ecophysiology is the study of how seaweeds interact and adapt to their physical (light, temperature, water motion), chemical (seawater pH, nutrient supply) and biological (herbivores, colonial animals) environment.  This type of research has become increasingly important as researchers assess how seaweed communities will respond to environmental change associated with climate change (ocean acidification, more storms and waves, reduced nutrient supply) and local environmental stressors (pollution, enhanced nutrient run-off ).

Monitoring and conservation of reefs

The focus of this work is understanding patterns and processes structuring biodiversity on temperate rocky reefs. Much of this work involved research on marine protected areas where we contrast changes associated with protection to those happening in adjacent reef systems where human pressures remain.

In recent years the dive-based focus on shallow inshore rocky reef systems has broadened to include deeper reefs across the continental shelf, and development of appropriate techniques for describing and monitoring these habitats and the species they support. These techniques include multibeam sonar (MBS) mapping, image-based surveys of benthic diversity from autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and surveys of fish populations from baited underwater videos (BUVs).

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
1 October, 2019