The Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research focuses on four major research themes:
Understanding the mechanisms and extent of connectivity among habitats is fundamental to understanding large-scale ecological processes as well as managing the integrity of coastal landscapes. Movements of nutrients, detritus and animals across habitat boundaries provide a mechanism for habitats to interact, and influence biodiversity and productivity. This theme forms a major focus of research within CMER, with particular emphasis placed on using experimental and biomarker (stable isotopes and fatty acids) approaches to examine cross-boundary linkages among reefs, seagrass meadows, surf zones and beaches within coastal landscapes. This is key information that should underpin the development of appropriate zoning schemes within Marine Parks and for the designation of marine management units outside Marine Parks.
Human impacts in the marine environment are extensive and while Australia is blessed with a relatively pristine environment, wherever we have large coastal developments, we have marine pollution or habitat degradation. CMER's research in this theme focuses on a number of pressures such as reduced water quality (e.g., light reduction due to dredging and eutrophication), climate change, fishing and invasive species. We particularly focus on identifying useful indicators of stress in marine ecosystems and quantifying the thresholds beyond which these disturbances cause either temporary or persistent damage. This knowledge can then be applied in better management of human activities and in monitoring programs. By establishing how marine habitats will respond to human pressures, our research under this theme aims to provide recommendations for conservation and management strategies to ameliorate human impacts.
Sound knowledge on the distributions, biology and habitat use of populations of key species is essential for effective management in the marine environment, whether we are dealing with fisheries, megafauna or major primary producers. Within this theme, CMER's research focuses on examining the population structure seagrasses and economically important fish. In the case of fish, we examine the role of Marine Protected Areas as a tool for fisheries management and for the maintenance of biodiversity. We have also been identifying key dugong habitats in order to help managers assess potential impacts or competition for resources between dugongs and humans.
Stress and disturbance influence the provision of resources to marine organisms and their interactions. Stress and disturbance is sometimes natural and sometimes caused, directly or indirectly, by human activities. In some situations, natural and anthropogenic stress may co-occur and have interactive effects. CMER's research in this theme addresses a diverse range of mechanisms causing stress and disturbance, for example biological (e.g., herbivory), chemical (e.g., pollution) and physical (e.g., wave exposure, temperature, light) agents. Our research under this theme aims to address fundamental questions of how stress and disturbance influence ecosystem function.