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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Michael Bode

Michael Bode

Former Research Fellow

ARC Postdoctoral Fellow (2009-2012)
ARC DECRA (2013-2016)

PhD mathematics, University of Queensland (2008)

James Cook University

+61 414 108 439


I am currently a Principal Research Fellow in Computational Biology. My work focuses on spatial ecology, particularly the dispersal ecology of coral reef ecosystems, and conservation science, particularly situations where multiple decision-makers are active in the landscape.

I graduated from James Cook University in maths and physics, where I became interested in biophysical oceanography during my honours research. After teaching secondary mathematics in Malawi and working as a research assistant with Prof. Sean Connolly, I began a PhD in mathematics at the University of Queensland, under Prof. Hugh Possingham. My thesis research ranged from the management of marine fisheries to the allocation of fungible global conservation funds, but it was drawn together by a focus on repeatable mathematical tools, and by tight collaborations with conservation organisations ranging from The Nature Conservancy to state government departments. After submitting his thesis Michael was employed on two ARC fellowships that focused on insular and marine conservation, and worked as an investigator on a series of collaborative research centres, including the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, and the NESP Threatened Species Hub. Michael’s research focuses on the development of quantitative methods for both ecology and conservation, focusing on large-scale spatial ecology, uncertain ecosystem dynamics, and conservation decision-making.

Research Interests

Dispersal Ecology: I’m interested in a broad range of questions about the ecological, evolutionary, and conservation implications of larval dispersal in marine organisms. I’m particularly fascinated by (1) measuring dispersal over a range of scales, and (2) investigating how large-scale, complex dispersal patterns govern the ecology and bioeconomics of fisheries.

Measurement: Larval dispersal is difficult to observe and expensive to measure, and we need analytic tools that can make sense of limited empirical data. This means netter mathematical techniques, and more accurate oceanographic models.

Implications: Larval dispersal is spatially complex and temporally variable, and it is therefore difficult to understand how it will affect the broader socio-ecological system. Using metapopulation and metacommunity models, we can get some idea of how regional substructure and asymmetry in dispersal patterns affects how populations fluctuate, and how they interact with each other.

Larval dispersal also complicates the management of exploited marine species. Dispersal creates variable connections between disparate populations, creating computational complications and economic externalities.

Conservation: We spend a lot of time in conservation science developing new optimisation methods and incorporating ever-more high resolution spatial data. At best, these new methods squeeze a few percentage points of efficiency out of our optimal solution. Instead, I think we should focus on more rich and realistic descriptions of the conservation system. Specifically, I’m interested in formulating and analysing theoretical conservation problems that explicitly consider (1) uncertainty, (2) dynamics, and (3) multiple and diverse conservation actors.

Uncertainty: How do we make efficient decisions when we know very little about many aspects of the conservation problem? What do the key stakeholders want to achieve? How effective are our proposed interventions, and how will the ecological system respond? How much funding do we have, and how long will it last for? Fundamental uncertainties make quantitative approaches to conservation science much harder, but also much more vital.

Dynamics: Conservation systems are built over long periods of time, funds are metered out in yearly doses, and ecosystems change at multiple timescales. However, most of our quantitative methods imagine that conservation plans are rolled out overnight, and that the results are delivered with equal rapidity. How do we plan efficient actions in such a responsive system?

Multiple actors: Quantitative conservation science generally makes top-down, authoritarian assumptions. Conservation plans are implemented by a central manager, threatened species are managed by a single authority, protected areas are inviolable. In reality, the conservation ecosystem involves large numbers of independent and partially-independent actors. As well as independent non-conservation actors (e.g., land developers, mining companies), the conservation sector itself is diverse and independent. How does this reality affect conservation outcomes? How should planning proceed when there are multiple loci of action? How do we encourage cooperation between multiple conservation NGOs with divergent goals and separate funding streams?


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