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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Reef researcher wins British Ecological Society prize

30
Apr 2021

Today, the British Ecological Society announced Dr Renato Morais from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University as the winner of this year’s Haldane Prize.

The prize is given each year to the best paper in the journal Functional Ecology from an early career author. Dr Morais was awarded the prize for: Severe coral loss shifts energetic dynamics on a coral reef.

Dr Morais led an international team of researchers comparing reef survey data from 2003–2004 and 2018 at Lizard Island. The team evaluated how the metrics of energy flow and storage that underscore critical coral reef function responded to severe coral loss. The losses followed cyclones in 2014 and 2015 and bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

“What we found was counter-intuitive,” Dr Morais said. “In the 15 years punctuated by recurring catastrophic events of coral loss, reef fish assemblages became more, not less, productive.”

Dr Morais explained this was because the increased occurrence of larger, and presumably older, herbivorous fishes was linked to a massive increase in their favoured food: short algal turfs that quickly colonise dead corals.

Yet, the team found rates of biomass ‘recycling’ (i.e., turnover) decreased during this period, likely because large fish grow proportionally less than small ones.

“Overall, our results cautioned against interpreting the extra productivity following coral loss as necessarily positive, as it may not be stable in the long run if old fish are not replenished,” Dr Morais said.

“I am grateful for having the opportunity to develop an interesting, yet unexpected, project during my PhD, and very thrilled to accept the 2020 Haldane Prize for the paper.”

Enrico Rezende, Senior Editor of Functional Ecology said: “By combining detailed longitudinal surveys with sound theoretical analyses, Dr Morais and his colleagues provide a detailed account of the shift in energy dynamics during the degradation of a coral reef.”

The British Ecological Society (BES) awards its journal prizes annually. The prizes are for each of the seven BES journals: Functional EcologyJournal of Animal EcologyJournal of Applied EcologyJournal of EcologyMethods in Ecology and EvolutionPeople and Nature, and for the first time, Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

The winning papers are selected by the Senior Editors of the journals. The awards are presented to the winners at the BES Annual Meeting in Liverpool.

The winners receive a prize of £250, membership of the BES, a year’s subscription to the respective journal and a contribution to the costs incurred in attending the BES Annual Meeting in the UK if they wish to give a presentation on their work.

British Ecological Society

Founded in 1913, the British Ecological Society (BES) is the oldest ecological society in the world. The BES promotes the study of ecology through a range of scientific literature, funding and events, education initiatives and policy work. The society has around 6,500 members from nearly 130 different countries. www.britishecologicalsociety.org

Renato Morais undertaking reef surveys. Photo credit: Victor Huertas.
Renato Morais undertaking reef surveys. Photo credit: Victor Huertas.

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au