Kirsty grew up in England completing a BSc (Hons) in Oceanography with Marine Biology at the University of Southampton. She came to Australia to do a Master of Applied Science at James Cook University, before teaching field skills and reef monitoring in the Seychelles, and running Oceanography courses for a school ship in the Caribbean. On returning to Australia, she completed a Masters of Education through Charles Sturt University and started working at the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU as a research assistant. She began her PhD in February.
The resilience of a complex ecosystem may be attributed to its capacity to adapt to changing conditions whilst maintaining core processes. However, the degree of resilience within a system is not a tangible, directly measurable entity; reduced resilience is often only made clear when thresholds are reached and the system moves into an alternate state. Operationalising resilience into a quantitative measure or set of measures is therefore critical for coral reef managers to anticipate and adapt to change before shifts occur. Fish function has been identified as critical for supporting resilience of reefs within a coral dominated state. However, research to date suggests that simple measures, such as biomass of functional groups, are not directly related to ecosystem impact due to spatial and ontogenetic changes in function. For evaluation of fish function to be a useful in operationalising resilience there is a need to move to a multi-scale approach, where the role of species within the spatial patchiness of the landscape is considered. My research aims to address this need by (1) Characterising the spatially explicit functional role of reef fish; (2) Evaluating the interaction of fish with coral reef structure across spatial scales; and (3) Using this information to evaluate the effectiveness of cross-scale diversity of function in fish as an indicator of resilience in coral reef ecosystems. The research outcomes will provide fundamental understanding of the spatial scales at which fish interact with their environment and perform functions critical to coral reef condition. This will aid management by identifying the scales at which action is needed to support resilience.