People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.


Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution


Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image Menu Image

A unified model explains commonness and rarity on coral reefs


Tuesday, August 29th, 12:00 to 13:00 hrs

Building 19, Room 106, JCU Townsville Campus
Sean Connolly
Sean Connolly

Abstract. Abundance patterns in ecological communities have important implications for biodiversity maintenance and ecosystem functioning. However, ecological theory has been largely unsuccessful at capturing multiple macroecological abundance patterns simultaneously. I will propose a parsimonious model that unifies widespread ecological relationships involving local aggregation, species-abundance distributions, and species associations, and I will test this model against the metacommunity structure of reef-building corals and coral reef fishes across the western and central Pacific. For both corals and fishes, the unified model simultaneously captures extremely well local species abundance distributions, inter-specific variation in the strength of spatial aggregation, patterns of community similarity, species accumulation, and regional species richness, performing far better than alternative models that I also examined, and those analysed in previous work on coral reefs. This approach contributes to the development of synthetic theory for large-scale patterns of community structure in nature, and to addressing ongoing challenges in biodiversity conservation at macroecological scales.

Biography. Sean Connolly is a Professor of Marine Biology at JCU, and a Leader of the ARC Centre’s Program 2: Ecosystem dynamics: Past, Present and Future. Sean combines mathematical and statistical modelling with fieldwork and laboratory experiments to study the dynamics of biological turnover at all scales, including ecophysiology, population dynamics, species interactions and biodiversity, and macroevolution. He received his doctorate in 1999 from Stanford University in California, USA, for research on the ecology of rocky shores. In 1999-2000, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Arizona, USA, where he examined global dynamics of marine biodiversity in the fossil record. In 2000, he was recruited to JCU to develop and lead a research program in ecological modelling applied to coral reefs. Sean has >100 publications in leading international journals, including 6 papers in Science or Nature, and he has supervised 40 postgraduate and Honours students. In 2008 he was awarded an ARC Australian Professorial Fellowship (2008-2012), and in 2009, the Fenner Medal of the Australian Academy of Science, which honours outstanding research in the biological sciences by a scientist under 40. Sean has also twice received a national Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, in 2006 and 2014, for his innovative approaches to teaching ecological modelling to undergraduate students.


Australian Research Council Pandora

Partner Research Institutions

Partner Partner Partner Partner
Coral Reef Studies