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)

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Development of ecological and social-ecological theory


Tuesday, 4th of November 2014; 11:00 to 12:00 hrs.

Building 19 (Kevin Stark Research Building) Room #106 (upstairs), JCU, Townsville.
Professor Graeme Cumming, Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology, University of Cape Town, Republic of South Africa.
Professor Graeme Cumming, Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology, University of Cape Town, Republic of South Africa.

Abstract: I will explore three questions that I regard as central to the further development of ecological and social-ecological theory: (1) How resilient are ecological communities (and their functions and services) to habitat and biodiversity loss? (2) What is the importance of spatial heterogeneity for self-organization in natural resource management situations? and (3) How can we predict and resolve the formation of scale mismatches between the needs of societies, socioeconomic institutions, and ecosystems? Using six examples from diverse study systems, and following a gradient of abstraction that runs from field work through statistics and modelling to deep philosophical hand-waving, I will attempt to demonstrate that spatial elements of complex systems – such as network membership, geographic context, spatial subsidies, upscaling, and edge effects – are integral to the resilience and sustainability of social-ecological systems.

Biography: Graeme Cumming grew up (well, mostly) in Harare, Zimbabwe. He studied Zoology and Entomology to the honours level at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, before attending Oxford University, U.K., on a Rhodes Scholarship. While at New College, Oxford, he completed his doctorate on ‘The Evolutionary Ecology of African Ticks’ under the supervision of Drs. Sarah Randolph and David Rogers. From Oxford he moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, funded by a D. H. Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), to work with TNC and Professor Steve Carpenter at the Center for Limnology on applying species-based models to management and conservation-related problems in freshwater systems. After two years as a postdoc, he was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida. Graeme left UF at the end of 2005 and is currently Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town. He has a wide range of interests, centering around understanding spatial aspects of ecology and the relevance of broad-scale pattern-process dynamics for ecosystem (and social-ecological system) function and resilience. He is also interested in the applications of landscape ecology and complexity theory to conservation and the sustainable management of natural resources.


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