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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Simon J. Brandl

Simon J. Brandl

PhD graduate

James Cook University

Simon is originally from Munich, Germany. Although he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Innsbruck, in the centre of the Alps and far away from the ocean, marine biology has always been his main interest. After finishing his Bachelor thesis on the ecology of clingfishes (f. Gobiesocidae) in the Northern Adriatic Sea he came to Australia and enrolled for the MAppSc in Marine Biology at JCU in February 2011. Having completed a research project with David Bellwood where he investigated pair-formation in the herbivorous rabbitfish Siganus doliatus, he finished his PhD on fine-scale differences in the functional performances of herbivorous coral reef fishes and their influence on coral reef ecosystems.

Curriculum Vitae

Project Title:

Functional niche partitioning among herbivorous fishes

Project Description:

In feeding on algal and detrital matter, herbivorous reef fishes greatly influence the dynamics between benthic organisms on coral reefs. Specifically, through the removal of algae, herbivorous fishes promote the growth and replenishment of scleractinian corals, thus maintaining coral dominated reef systems. However, the guild of herbivorous reef fishes is not uniform and there are marked dietary and behavioral differences between herbivorous species. While this can be assumed to result in fundamentally different functional roles, neither the extent of functional niche partitioning, nor the consequences for benthic communities on coral reefs are currently known. Therefore, there is a clear need to investigate the realized, functional niches of herbivorous fishes and to understand the impact of different herbivorous species on the benthic community. The aim of Simon’s project is to provide this information. To this end, the project is focused on two severely understudied components: the family of rabbitfishes (f. Siganidae) and the consequences of small-scale spatial variation in the feeding behavior of herbivores. Ultimately, the information gathered throughout the project will be incorporated into a community approach, which may significantly increase our understanding of the dynamics between herbivores, corals and algae and provide valuable information for the management of reef systems across the globe.


Principal supervisor: Prof. David Bellwood

Supervisory committee: Prof. Sean Connolly

Publications List:

Brandl, S. J. & Bellwood, D. R. 2014 Individual-based analyses reveal limited functional overlap in a coral reef fish community. Journal of Animal Ecology. In press (full text)

Brandl , S. J., Hoey, A. S., Bellwood, D. R. 2014 Micro-topography mediates interactions between corals, algae, and herbivorous fishes. Coral Reefs. In Press(full text)

Bellwood, D. R., Goatley, C., Brandl, S. J. & Bellwood, D.R. 2014 Fifty million years of herbivory: fossils, fishes and functional innovations. Proc R Soc B. In Press (full text)

Brandl, S.J., Bellwood, D.R. 2013. Morphology, sociality, and ecology: can morphology predict pairing behaviour in coral reef fishes? Coral Reefs, 32: 835 – 846. (full text)

Hoey, A.S., Brandl, S.J., Bellwood, D.R. 2013. Diet and cross-shelf distribution of rabbitfishes (f. Siganidae) on the northern Great Barrier Reef: implications for ecosystem function. Coral Reefs, in press. (full text)

Brandl, S.J., Bellwood, D.R. 2013. Pair formation in the herbivorous rabbitfish Siganus doliatus. Journal of Fish Biology, 82: 2031 – 2044. (full text)

Brandl, S.J. et al. 2012. First record of the clingfish Apletodon dentatus (Gobiesocidae) in the Adriatic Sea and a description of a simple method to collect clingfishes. Bulletin of Fish Biology, 13, 1-2.

Conference Presentations:

Brandl, S.J. 2013. Novel analyses of niche overlap applied to a herbivorous reef fish community. Australian Coral Reef Society Symposium, Sydney, Australia.

Brandl, S.J. 2013. Feeding in pairs: an ecological perspective. Indo-Pacific Fish Conference, Okinawa, Japan.

Brandl, S.J. 2012. Pair formation in the rabbitfish Siganus doliatus. International Coral Reef Symposium, Cairns, Australia.

Brandl, S.J. 2013. Morphology, sociality, and ecology: can morphology predict pairing behavour in coral reef fishes? SMTB Postgraduate Conference JCU, Townsville, Australia.

Brandl, S.J. 2013. Morphology, sociality and functional niches: realized, functional niches of herbivorous reef fishes. Guest Seminar, University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France.

Awards and Grants:

Bommies Award, highest commended video – Great Barrier Reef Foundation ($ 2000, 2013)

Best oral student presentation award – Australian Coral Reef Society Symposium (2013)

Best oral presentation award – Postgraduate Conference, James Cook University (500 A$, 2013)

Travel award – Australian Coral Reef Society (2013)

Young Science Ambassador Award – Australian Academy for Science and Engineering (1,250 A$, 2013)

International Scholarship for short-term scientific research projects – University of Innsbruck, Austria (1,000 €, 2010)


Australian Research Council Pandora

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