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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Mark McCormick

Mark McCormick

Professor and Chief Investigator

Reader (2004 - present), Senior Lecturer (2001-2004), Lecturer, JCU (1999 - 2000); Australian Research Fellow (1996 - 1999), Australian Postdoctoral Fellowship (1993-96), Marine Biology Dept., JCU; Research Contractor for a number of government agencies in New Zealand and Australia (1986-88).

BSc (Auckland) • MSc (Auckland) • PhD JCU.


James Cook University

+61 (0)7 4781 4048

Research Interests

Reef Fish Population Processes and Underlying Mechanisms
Fish/Habitat Interactions and the Influence of Habitat Degradation on Fish Communities
Larval Biology
Fish Behaviour
Predator-prey interactions

I have a very broad range of interests within the field of reef fish population dynamics. My major research field explores the links between life history stages of coral reef fishes, and how events in earlier phases influence subsequent population dynamics. To this end, I have active research programs in the field of maternal effects, larval development and growth, and how individual performance measures of larvae and juveniles influence survival within the confines of their social and physical environment.

Member of: Australian Coral Reefs Society, Australian Fish Biology Society, International Society of Reef Studies. Biological Editor for Coral Reefs

I use field collections, observation and experiments in conjunction with laboratory experiments to address such questions as: the importance of starvation of larvae in tropical waters; the role of maternal condition in influencing fish population processes; whether mortality in the larval phase is selective with respect to size or body condition; the role of predator characteristics in influencing prey selection.

I have shown for a common damselfish that behavioural interactions that the mother experiences before laying a clutch of benthic eggs strongly influences the rates of development of the larvae and their subsequent growth, larval duration and mortality schedules. This was shown to be hormonally mediated, through a stress related mechanism. Field and laboratory manipulations have shown the relative importance of female feeding regimes, behavioural interactions and size in influencing the size of the larvae they produce. Paternal contributions have also been shown to be important in the laboratory.

I have used otolith microstructure to reconstruct growth histories and demonstrate the importance of size and growth selective processes in influencing larval survival. My students are currently exploring the utility of otolith shape as a proxy for fish condition. In this way, growth and otolith shape have been found to be useful predictors of cohort success.

I have an active research program exploring predator-prey interactions, and how these influence which prey survive. We have shown that chemical alarm signal are an important mechanism whereby newly settled fish can learn the identity of predators. Prey selectivity curves are being derived for key predators of juvenile reef fishes.

Recent and Currently Supervised PhD Topics

Future PhD Directions

Research Online@JCU

Selected Publications

Geange S, Poulos D, Stier A and McCormick M (2017) The relative influence of abundance and priority effects on colonization success in a coral-reef fish. Coral Reefs, 36. pp. 151-155

McCormick M, Chivers D, Allan B and Ferrari M (2017) Habitat degradation disrupts neophobia in juvenile coral reef fish . Global Change Biology, 23. pp. 719-727

Morse P, Zenger K, McCormick M, Meekan M and Huffard C (2017) Chemical cues correlate with agonistic behaviour and female mate choice behaviour in the southern blue-ringed Octopus, Hapalochlaena maculosa (Cephalopoda: Octopodidae). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 83 (1). pp. 79-87

Chivers D, McCormick M, Allan B and Ferrari M (2016) Risk assessment and predator learning in a changing world: understanding the impacts of coral reef degradation. Scientific Reports, 6. pp. 1-7

Chivers D, McCormick M, Allan B, Mitchell M, Gonçalves E, Bryshun R and Ferrari M (2016) At odds with the group: changes in lateralization and escape performance reveal conformity and conflict in fish schools. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 283. pp. 1-8

del Mar Palacios M, Warren D and McCormick M (2016) Sensory cues of a top-predator indirectly control a reef fish mesopredator. Oikos, 125 (2). pp. 201-209

Lienart G, Ferrari M and McCormick M (2016) Thermal environment and nutritional condition affect the efficacy of chemical alarm cues produced by prey fish. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 99 (10). pp. 729-739

McCormick M and Allan B (2016) Lionfish misidentification circumvents an optimised escape response by prey. Conservation Physiology, 4. pp. 1-9

McCormick M and Lönnstedt O (2016) Disrupted learning: habitat degradation impairs crucial antipredator responses in naive prey. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 283. pp. 1-8

McCormick M (2016) Protogyny in a tropical damselfish: females queue for future benefit. PeerJ, 4. pp. 1-26

McLeod IJones R, Jones G, Takahashi M and McCormick M (in press) Interannual variation in the larval development of a coral reef fish in response to temperature and associated environmental factors. Marine Biology,

Militz T, McCormick M, Schoeman D, Kinch J and Southgate P (2016) Frequency and distribution of melanistic morphs in coexisting population of nine clownfish species in Papua New Guinea. Marine Biology, 163. pp. 1-10

Full list of publications


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