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Ecology of fishes and coral reefs

Coral reefs are one of the most visually appealing, yet threatened ecosystems in the world. In our lab we look beyond the colour (except for PhD student Christopher Hemingson who is looking at the colouration of reef fishes) and view the organisms which make up coral reefs as machines. By studying the morphology, behaviour and ecosystem interactions of various coral reef organisms we can determine why, where, when and how coral reef organisms perform particular functions. Many such functions are vital in maintaining resilient coral reefs. Additionally we assess how various stressors on coral reef environments affect organisms performing their respective functions and how this may influence coral reef systems as a whole. By understanding the ecology of coral reefs in this manner we gain important insights into how they function and how coral reefs can be managed in a changing world.     

A steephead parrotfish  Chlorurus microrhinos . © J.P. Krajewski.

A steephead parrotfish Chlorurus microrhinos. © J.P. Krajewski.

Featured Articles

Bellwood, D. R., Hughes, T. P., Folke, C., Nystrom, M. (2004). Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature, 429(6994), 827-833.


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Goatley, C. H. R., Bonaldo, R. M., Fox, R. J., Bellwood, D. R. (2016). Sediments and herbivory as sensitive indicators of coral reef degradation. Ecology and Society21(1), 29.



Brandl, S. J., Bellwood, D. R. (2015). Coordinated vigilance provides evidence for direct reciprocity in coral reef fishes. Scientific Reports, 5, 14556.


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Evolution of fishes and Coral Reefs

Over the past 400 million years, interactions between fishes and reefs have intensified from initial indifference to the complex ecosystems we see today, where coral reefs are highly dependent upon fish assemblages. Coral reefs, in turn, have acted as both cradles and refuges for fish lineages, underpinning both increased diversity and reduced extinctions. Using morphological and molecular evidence our research addresses questions relating to the evolution of form and and function in coral reef fishes. Additionally we place the evolution of fishes in a functional context to assess how coral reefs ecosystems have changed over evolutionary time. By formulating an understanding of how reefs functioned in the past, we gain unique insights into the potential future of coral reefs in a changing world. 


Featured Articles

Bellwood, D. R., Goatley, C. H., Bellwood, O. (2016). The evolution of fishes on coral reefs: form, function and interdependence. Biological Reviews, doi: 10.1111/brv.12259


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Bellwood, D. R., Goatley, C. H., Bellwood, O., Delbarre, D. J., & Friedman, M. (2015). The rise of jaw protrusion in spiny-rayed fishes closes the gap on elusive prey. Current Biology25(20), 2696-2700.



Bellwood, D. R., Hoey, A. S., Bellwood, O., Goatley, C. H.(2014). Evolution of long-toothed fishes and the changing nature of fish-benthos interactions on coral reefs. Nature Communications5, 3144.



Coral Reef biogeography

Hotspots of high species diversity are a prominent feature of modern global biodiversity patterns. Coral reefs in particular exhibit highly congruent patterns of biodiversity, with a prominent hotspot in the Indo-Australian Archipelago. However, over the past 50 million years there have been at least three global marine biodiversity hotspots, which have moved across almost half the globe. During this time tectonic events have shaped the modern world leading to the formation of modern day biogeographic realms. By combining data from fossils, molecular studies and modern day species distributions it allows our lab to examine the origins and change in coral reef organisms through time.  

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Featured articles

Bellwood, D. R., Hughes, T. P. (2001). Regional-scale assembly rules and biodiversity of coral reefs. Science, 292(5521), 1532-1535.


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Cowman, P. F., Bellwood, D. R. (2013). The historical biogeography of coral reef fishes: global patterns of origination and dispersal. Journal of Biogeography40(2), 209-224.


Bellwood, D. R., Meyer, C. P., (2009). Searching for heat in a marine biodiversity hotspot. Journal of Biogeography, 36(4), 569-576.