Unravelling the nature of fish-coral interactions


UWA and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) through the AIMS@UWA alliance are seeking motivated students to participate in this PhD opportunity as part of the Reef Song Project, co-funded by AIMS and BHP under the Australian Coral Reef Resilience Initiative (ACRRI).

ACRRI brings together novel research from two World Heritage sites, Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef, to develop the knowledge, skills and tools required to deliver innovative solutions for the management and sustainability of Australia’s coral reefs. Reef Song will explore the role of fishes in promoting resilient coral reefs, improve our understanding of reef recovery and adaptation, and develop new interventions that support reef restoration.

Successful applicants will be based at located in the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, where they will work as part of a diverse team of researchers and postgraduate students. In addition to fieldwork, students may spend some time undertaking research at the AIMS SeaSim facility in Townsville. Applicants should be comfortable spending extended periods of time in the field and be competent to dive.

Project Goals:

  1. Each PhD will focus on one or more aspects of the ecology and physiology of coral fish interactions.
  2. Successful applicants will combine field and lab experiments to broaden our understanding of how fishes promote coral reef rehabilitation and restoration.
  3. Techniques will include physiology, stable isotope techniques, molecular analysis, microbiome analysis, and mathematical modelling.



Project 1: Effects of fish-derived nutrients on coral ecology and physiology

This project will investigate how nutrients produced by coral reef fishes might benefit reef-building corals under a range of current and future environmental scenarios, along with the mechanisms by which this occurs. The project will be guided by mathematical and statistical modelling, supported by a combination of field and laboratory experiments.

The supervisory panel will include Dr Greg Skrzypek, UWA, and Dr Diego Barneche and Dr Rohan Brooker, AIMS.

Project 2: Non-nutrient effects of fish-coral interactions on coral ecology and physiology

In contrast to project 1, this project will explore pathways by which fishes influence corals not directly related to the nutrients they produce, for instance how fishes impact the molecular ecology of their associated coral. This project will incorporate a range of advanced genetic sequencing techniques, supported by field observations and controlled laboratory experiments.

The supervisory panel will include Dr Deirdre Gleeson and Belinda Martin, UWA, Dr Luke Thomas and Dr Rohan Brooker, AIMS.

Project 3: Harnessing flexibility in coral nutrition to aid coral survival and adaptation

Complimenting projects 1 and 2, this project will investigate the relative contribution of autotrophic and heterotrophic nutrition of corals, the degree to which reef fishes support coral heterotrophy, and the potential for increased heterotrophic nutrition to aid post-bleaching survival. This project will utilise cutting-edge physiological methods, supported by field observations and controlled laboratory experiments.

The supervisory panel will include Associate Professor Julian Partridge , UWA, Dr James Gilmour and Dr Line Bay, AIMS.

ACRI banner with AIMS and BHP logos

Suggested readings


Research team leader: Dr Luke Thomas

I am a molecular ecologist at UWA and AIMS. I have expertise in population genetics, applying state of the art tools to better understand resilience in tropical marine species to better inform management outcomes for marine conservation.


Funding and Collaborations

Funding - Each project funding is $34,200 per annum for three years

External Collaborators:


How to Apply

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project -
    • Competitive applicants will have advanced training in ecology and demonstrated relevant research experience in at least one of the following areas: physiological experiments on corals or related taxa, modelling, stable isotope techniques/biogeochemistry, molecular ecology and bioinformatics.
    • Applicants should be available to start their studies in early 2022.
    • This opportunity is open to domestic and international applicants, although preference may be given to individuals currently residing in Australia due to border restrictions.
Submit enquiry to research team leader 
  • Prospective candidates should send a single PDF file that clearly identifies the preferred project and includes: a brief cover letter/statement of interest and experience (1 page max), a CV including the names and contact details of 3 referees (2 pages max), and an academic transcript.
  • For all three projects please contact Dr Luke Thomas [email protected] or Dr Rohan Brooker [email protected]