Chris Fulton (email@example.com) is a functional ecologist who explores causal linkages between the physical environment and the phenotype of organisms to understand why variations in coral reef diversity occur over space and time. Chris completed his PhD at James Cook University in 2005 and took up his lectureship at the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University in 2006. For more information see: Chris’s webpage
We know that coral reefs are capable of switching from seemingly stable coral-dominated communities to less desirable algal-dominated reefs with alarming speed. However, we are yet to fully understand how physical forcing may prevent or exacerbate such coral reef ‘phase shifts’. In this talk I describe how wave energy can limit the distribution of coral reef macroalgae and shape the likelihood, nature and intensity of a coral-algal phase shift. Using measurements of wave-driven hydrodynamic force and algal biomechanics, I will present preliminary models indicating how algal shape, flexibility and strength could set distinct limits on the occurrence and size of macroalgae on the Great Barrier Reef in the absence of herbivorous grazing pressure. I will discuss the implications of such biophysical coupling for assessing coral reef resilience across environmental gradients.