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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Bette L. Willis

Bette L. Willis

Emeritus Professor

Professor, James Cook University James Cook University (2007-); Associate Professor, JCU (2002 - 2006); Senior Lecturer, JCU (1999–2002), Lecturer, JCU (1990-99); Research Fellow on the ARC/MSTGS funded project ‘Reproductive biology and ecology of mass spawning corals’ (1986-89).

BSc (Hons.) York & Guelph • PhD JCU

International Coral Reef Society; Australian Coral Reef Society (past Councillor); Australian Marine Sciences Association; Pacific Science Association.

James Cook University

+61 (0)7 4781 5349

Research Interests

My current research activities focus on questions concerning the capacity of corals to cope with climate change through their potential to form symbiosis with a range of Symbiodinium (zooxanthellae) clades that affect their physiological performance, specifically their thermal tolerance. A second research focus is understanding the ecological significance of coral disease on the Great Barrier Reef and the links between disease and ocean warming.

Other research areas in which I have published include: Breeding synchrony and comparative gametogenic studies of corals; Geographic patterns in mass spawning; Proximate factors involved in synchronising mass spawning; Larval dispersal of mass spawning corals; Latitudinal gradients in coral recruitment; Separating genotypic and phenotypic components of morphological variation; Histocompatibility responses and intra-specific competition in corals; Growth strategies leading to morphological variation in corals.

Recent and Currently Supervised PhD Topics

 Future PhD Directions

Book Chapters

Willis BL, Page CA, Dinsdale EA (2004) Coral disease on the Great Barrier Reef. In E Rosenberg, Y Loya (eds) Coral Health and Disease, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp 69-104

Selected Publications

Hughes T, Kerry J, Álvarez-Noriega M, Alvarez-Romero J, Anderson K, Baird A, Babcock R, Beger M, Bellwood D, Berkelmans R, Bridge T, Butler I, Byrne M, Cantin N, Comeau S, Connolly S, Cumming G, Dalton S, Diaz-Pulido G, Eakin C, Figueira W, Gilmour J, Harrison H, Heron S, Hoey A, Hobbs J, Hoogenboom M, Kennedy E, Kuo C, Lough J, Lowe R, Liu G, McCulloch M, Malcolm H, McWilliam M, Pandolfi J, Pears R, Pratchett M, Schoepf V, Simpson T, Skirving W, Sommer B, Torda G, Wachenfeld D, Willis B and Wilson S (2017) Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals. Nature, 543 (7645). pp. 373-377

Kelly L, Heintz T, Lamb J, Ainsworth T and Willis B (2016) Ecology and pathology of novel plaque-like growth anomalies affecting a reef-building coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3. pp. 1-12

Lamb J, Wenger A, Devlin M, Ceccarelli D, Williamson D and Willis B (2016) Reserves as tools for alleviating impacts of marine disease. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371 (1689). pp. 1-11

Maynard J, van Hooidonk R, Harvell C, Eakin C, Liu G, Willis B, Williams G, Groner M, Dobson A, Heron S, Glenn R, Reardon K and Shields J (2016) Improving marine disease surveillance through sea temperature monitoring, outlooks and projections. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371 (1689). pp. 1-11

O’Brien P, Morrow K, Willis B and Bourne D (2016) Implications of ocean acidification for marine microorganisms from the free-living to the host-associated. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3. pp. 1-14

Wada N, Pollock F, Willis B, Ainsworth T, Mano N and Bourne D (2016) In situ visualization of bacterial populations in coral tissues: pitfalls and solutions. PeerJ, 4.

Bourne D, Ainsworth T, Pollock F and Willis B (2015) Towards a better understanding of white syndromes and their causes on Indo-Pacific coral reefs. Coral Reefs, 34 (1). pp. 233-242

Hein M, Lamb J, Scott C and Willis B (2015) Assessing baseline levels of coral health in a newly established marine protected area in a global scuba diving hotspot. Marine Environmental Research, 103. pp. 56-65

Lamb J, Williamson D, Russ G and Willis B (2015) Protected areas mitigate diseases of reef-building corals by reducing damage from fishing. Ecology, 96 (9). pp. 2555-2567

Maynard J, van Hooidonk R, Eakin C, Puotinen M, Garren M, Williams G, Heron S, Lamb J, Weil E, Willis B and Harvell C (2015) Projections of climate conditions that increase coral disease susceptibility and pathogen abundance and virulence. Nature Climate Change, 5 (7). pp. 688-695

Pollock F, Krediet C, Garren M, Stocker R, Winn K, Wilson B, Huete-Stauffer C, Willis B and Bourne D(2015) Visualization of coral host-pathogen interactions using a stable GFP-labeled Vibrio coralliilyticus strain. Coral Reefs, 34 (2). pp. 655-662

Full List of Publications


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