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.

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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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Maria Del Mar Palacios

Maria Del Mar Palacios

PhD graduate

BSc (Universidad del Valle, Colombia) • PhD (JCU)

James Cook University. AU

PhD Candidate

Personal website: http://www.mariadelmar-palacios.com/

Profile @ Google Scholar

Maria grew up in Cali (Colombia) and completed her BSc in Biology at Universidad del Valle. Before graduating in 2010, she fell in love with coral reef fish while studying the structure and composition of fish communities from Gorgona and Malpelo Islands (Eastern tropical Pacific). Guided by professor Fernando Zapata and associated to the Coral Reef Ecology research group, Maria won a research grant to study the impacts of pufferfish corallivory on pocilloporid reefs and led numerous research projects describing the coral reefs of the Colombian Pacific Coast (funded by WWF and TNC). In 2013 she moved to Australia to begin her Phd at JCU under the supervision of Professor Mark McCormick. Her research focuses on interactions among reef fish mesopredators and how these can be modified by the fear responses to top predators and by intra/ interspecific guild dynamics


Project Title:

Controlling Mesopredators: importance of intraguild behavioural interactions in trophic cascades

Project Description:

Populations of large predators have been overfished and decimated from oceans worldwide. Loss of predation force (top down control) has triggered trophic cascades and phase shifts due to the explosion of small consumers that deplete resource prey species. Using a reef fish food web I will experimentally address how the effect of small predators on their resource prey can be modified by the fear response to top predators and by intra/ interspecific guild interactions. Understanding the behavioural interactions among predators and its impact on trophic cascades is indispensable to predict consequences of predator loss and design appropriate management policies on coral reefs


Principal supervisor: Prof Mark McComick

Publications List:

Research Articles:

Book Chapters:

Coral Reef fish- MM Palacios Awards & grants:



Other Awards: 

In the media:

Study: Small Fish comforted by big predators – The scientist

Less fish stress for youngsters when big barrier reef predators nearby– Fishens magazine

Baby fish are comforted by the presence of large marine predators– Phys.org

Stress relief on coral reef fish  – 7 local news Townsville (skip to 6:03 for story)

Baby fish “less stressed” around large ocean predators  – Brisbane times

Baby fish breathe easier around large predators- CoE for Coral Reef Studies & James Cook University 

Controlling Mesopredators: importance of intraguild behavioural interactions in trophic cascades (2016) – ACRS newsletter 

Fear tactics in fish  – Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation


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Coral Reef Studies