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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Sterling Tebbett

Sterling Tebbett

Research Associate

B.Sc. (Hons) Marine Biology (Advanced) James Cook University (2016)

James Cook University


Sterling grew up on Australia’s Sunshine Coast where he became interested in the marine environment from a young age. He has been at JCU since 2012 and completed a BSc in Marine Biology in 2014 and an Honours in 2016, under the supervision of David Bellwood and Chris Goatley. His honours examined how sediments mediated interactions between surgeonfishes and algal turfs on coral reefs. Since completing his honours he worked as the lab manager in the Bellwood Lab up until the end of 2018. In 2019 he started his PhD candidature under the supervision of David Bellwood and Sean Connolly. Sterling’s research is now building on his earlier honours research to understand how fishes, sediments and productivity will interact to sustain the functioning of future coral reef configurations.

Personal Profiles:

Google Scholar

Research Gate



Project Title:

The functioning of future coral reefs: fishes, sediments and productivity

Selected Publications:

Tebbett SB, Morais RA, Goatley CHR, Bellwood DR (2021) Collapsing ecosystem functions on an inshore coral reef. Journal of Environmental Management 289: 112471

Bellwood DR, Hemingson CR, Tebbett SB (2020) Subconscious biases in coral reef fish studies. Bioscience 70: 621-627

Tebbett SB, Goatley CHR, Streit RP, Bellwood DR (2020) Algal turf sediments limit the spatial extent of function delivery on coral reefs. Science of the Total Environment 734: 139422

Tebbett SB, Bellwood DR (2020) Sediments ratchet-down coral reef algal turf productivity. Science of the Total Environment 713: 136709

Tebbett SB, Hoey AS, Depczynski M, Wismer S, Bellwood DR (2020) Macroalgae removal on coral reefs: realised ecosystem functions transcend biogeographic locations. Coral Reefs 39: 203-214

Tebbett SB, Streit RP, Bellwood DR (2020) A 3D perspective on sediment accumulation in algal turfs: implications of coral reef flattening. Journal of Ecology 108: 70-80

Bellwood DR, Pratchett MS, Morrison TH, Gurney GG, Hughes TP, Álvarez-Romero JG, Day JC, Grantham R, Grech A, Hoey AS, Jones GP, Pandolfi JM, Tebbett SB, Techera E, Weeks R, Cumming GS (2019) Coral reef conservation in the Anthropocene: confronting spatial mismatches and prioritizing functions. Biological Conservation 236: 604-615

Bellwood DR, Streit RP, Brandl SJ, Tebbett SB (2019) The meaning of the term ‘function’ in ecology: a coral reef perspective. Functional Ecology 33: 948-961

Tebbett SB, Bellwood DR, Purcell SW (2018) Sediment addition and reduced herbivory drive declines in coral reef algal turfs: implications for reefs and reef fisheries. Coral Reefs 37: 929-937

Tebbett SB, Goatley CHR, Bellwood DR (2017) The effects of algal turf sediments and organic loads on feeding by coral reef surgeonfishes. PLoS ONE 12: e0169479

Conference Presentations:

Tebbett SB, Bellwood DR (2019) Lessons learnt from reef fish functional ecology. Australian Society for Fish Biology. Canberra, Australia

Tebbett SB, Latrille FX, Purcell SW, Bellwood DR (2019) Sediment impacts and the role of algal turfs in sediment dynamics on coral reefs. Australian Marine Sciences Association. Fremantle, Australia

Tebbett SB, Goatley CHR, Bellwood DR (2017) Not all herbivores are herbivores: sediments reveal disparate ecosystem roles of similar fishes. European Coral Reef Symposium. Oxford, United Kingdom

Tebbett SB, Goatley CHR, Bellwood DR (2017) The functional role of fishes on coral reefs: mediation by sediments. Indo-Pacific Fish Conference. Papeete, French Polynesia

Tebbett SB, Goatley CHR, Gordon SE, Bellwood DR (2016) Interactions between sediments and herbivorous fishes on coral reefs. International Coral Reef Symposium. Honolulu, HI, United States of America

Awards and Grants:

Virginia Chadwick Award (2021)

Lizard Island Doctoral Fellowship (2020)

International Coral Reef Society Graduate Fellowship (2019)

Orpheus Island Research Station Morris Family Trust Student Grant (2019)

James Cook University Prestige Research Training Stipend (2019)

Dr R Palmerston-Rundle Prize for Biological Sciences (2017)

James Cook University Academic Medal (Bachelor Coursework) (2015)

Port of Townsville Limited Prize in Marine Biology (2015)

Chris Alexander Memorial Prizes for Marine Biology (2015)

James Cook University Faculty of Science and Engineering Entry Bursary (2012)


Australian Research Council Pandora

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