Coral reefs are among the world’s most biodiverse, yet most threatened ecosystems. Climate change is greatly compounding local anthropogenic stressors, with many reefs transitioning from coral–dominant to less functional states. These changes in benthic habitat alter the abundance and composition of reef-associated organisms and their subsequent interactions. Of particular importance to ecosystem function are the interactions between parasites, their hosts and their environment. Due to reductions in habitat condition, altered host-parasite interactions have affected ecosystem function and disease prevalence in terrestrial and coastal systems. Reductions in habitat condition can therefore create negative feedbacks that may further affect ecosystem function. To date, the effects of habitat condition on host-parasite interactions have not been investigated on coral reefs. The objective of my PhD is to investigate how the condition of coral reef habitats affects parasitism of coral reef fishes. This project will further understanding of how parasite community structure, infective capacity and consequently fish health are influenced by the reduced condition of coral reefs. Through this research I aim to identify those parasitic life histories that are most resilient to habitat degradation, pose the greatest threat to fish populations on degraded coral reefs and to elucidate the key drivers causing shifts in parasitic assemblages along a gradient of coral reef health.
Katie grew up in the North of England, spending most of her free-time living abroad and diving the world’s oceans. She graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2012 with a BSc in Geography and took to the skies once more, dreaming of diving and studying on the Great Barrier Reef. In 2014 Katie obtained her MSc in Marine Biology & Ecology at James Cook University, investigating the capacity for thermal developmental acclimation in three tropical wrasse species. After spending two years working in various research positions: as a research assistant for Prof. Philip Munday; as a Research Projects Officer with CSIRO in Brisbane; and researching the effects of Cyclone Winston on coral reefs in Fiji, Katie returned to her academic nest at JCU to begin her next adventure. Under the supervision of Dr Andrew Hoey and Dr Kate Hutson, Katie’s PhD looks at the effects of reduced coral reef condition on the parasite communities infecting herbivorous fish on the Great Barrier Reef.