James Cook University
Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.
Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution
Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia
Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
University Location: Townsville, DB032-023
Office Phone Number: (07) 4781 4934
I decided to embark on a career ‘sea change’, leaving a successful Town Planning career in New South Wales, Australia (after graduating from the South Australian University of Technology, Australia). I pursued my undergraduate studies in marine biology focussing on ecology and health of marine ecosystems at James Cook University (Queensland, Australia), including subjects on marine plants and algae, marine chemistry, analytical environmental chemistry, microbiology and physical oceanography alongside with marine invertebrate and general ecology subjects. This led to an interest to understand algae as a critical component in the functioning of marine food webs and ecosystems. I was involved in several research projects at the North Queensland Algal Identification and culturing Facility (NQAIF) at James Cook University while completing my undergraduate studies. My Masters studies investigated the potential causes for a bloom-forming species of a colonial benthic microalga, a new record for the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). This research was supported by the CRC Reef Research Centre. I received a contract with NQAIF to work on benthic microalgal communities, which led to an interest in benthic toxic microalgae. In 2009, I started my PhD (part-time) at NQAIF, James Cook University, Australia studying benthic toxic microalgae causing ciguatera (tropical reef fish poisoning).
Ciguatera is a neglected tropical, coral-reef-associated illness with major impacts on economies and the health of people in tropical regions world-wide, nowadays indirectly expanding into other regions through tourism and frozen fish imports. The illness is induced by the consumption of fish contaminated with ciguatoxins. These toxins are derived from the benthic toxic dinoflagellate, Gambierdiscus spp, which inhabit macroalgal substrates within coral reef ecosystems. It is thought that cells of Gambierdiscus spp inadvertently enter fish food chains via herbivorous fish. Ciguatoxin concentrations then bioaccumulate along the food chain and concentrations are highest in large predatory fish.
Recent studies have linked increased ciguatera incident rates in tropical regions with warming sea surface temperatures. Coral reefs are being critically challenged by elevated sea surface temperatures and associated increases in frequency and intensity of disturbances by crown-of-thorns and cyclones. This has the potential to promote temporary and permanent phase-shifts from coral to macroalgal dominance, which may promote the expansion of ciguatera-causing Gambierdiscus colonies. In Australia, the GBR has become a globally known ciguatera hotspot, which has the potential to have a negative socio-economic impact at local and regional scales. This is due to fish being an integral part of the economy and lifestyle for coastal communities, particularly communities that have a direct link to the GBR. Spanish mackerel and coral trout are most frequently associated with ciguatera incidences in Queensland, Australia. The GBR is an interesting and unique ecosystem with very little research conducted on parameters influencing the occurrence of ciguateric fish and potentially high risk reef sites. A better understanding of the function and relationships between incidence, substrate preferences, physico-chemical tolerances, and trophic transfer routes is key for the development of monitoring and management tools. My PhD aims to unravel, identify and understand the critical drivers of ciguatera incident and trophic transfer routes in the GBR, particularly also aiming to resolve the importance of sea surface temperature.
Key factors influencing the occurrence and frequency of ciguatera on the Great Barrier Reef
Supervisors: Assoc. Prof. Kirsten Heimann and Professor Gary Russ
Sparrow, L. Russ, G. and Heimann, K. (2013) Impacts of predicted climate change scenarios on population growth of Gambierdiscus carpenteri isolated from the Great Barrier Reef. Australasian Society of Phycology and Aquatic Botany 27th Annual Conference, Sydney, Australia. November 27-29.
Sparrow, L. Russ, G. and Heimann, K. (2013) Effects of temperature and salinity changes on population growth of ciguatera causing dinoflagellates from the Great Barrier Reef. Australian Coral Reef Society Conference – Reefs in a Time of Change, Sydney, Australia. August 28-30.
Sparrow, L. and Heimann, K. (2010) Preliminary results of real ciguatera impact, North Queensland. Biology in the tropics – 2010 School of Marine & Tropical Biology Postgraduate Student Conference. James Cook University, Townsville, Australia. September 4-5.
Sparrow, L. and Heimann, K. (2010) Abundance and community structure of epiphytic toxic dinoflagellate in inshore – reefal habitats of the Great Barrier Reef. Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility Annual Conference, Pullman Reef Hotel, Cairns, Australia. May 18-20.
Sparrow, L. and Heimann, K. (2009) Abundance and community structure of epiphytic toxic dinoflagellate in inshore – reefal habitats of the Great Barrier Reef. Australasian Society of Phycology and Aquatic Botany 24th Annual Conference, Rydges Southbank, Townsville, Australia. November 9-12.
Heimann, K., Sparrow, L., Momigliano, P. and Blair, D. (2009) Analysis of recorded ciguatera poisoning incidents, distribution and seasonality. Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility Annual Conference, Rydges Southbank, Townsville, Australia. April 28-30.
Heimann, K., Hudson, S.D., Schaffelke, B., Sparrow, L. (2005) Temperature tolerance of Chrysocystis fragilis, a colonial chrysophyte in the GBR. BZoNQ 4th Annual Conference, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia. November 14-15.
Heimann, K. and Sparrow, L. (2015) Ciguatera – tropical reef fish poisoning. In Kim, S.W. [ed]. Handbook of Marine Microalgae. In press.
Momigliano, P. Sparrow, L. Blair, D. and Heimann, K. (2013) The diversity of Coolia spp.(Dinophyceae Ostreopsidaceae) in the central Great Barrier Reef region. PloS one, 8(10), e79278
Heimann, K. Capper, A. and Sparrow, L. (2011) Ocean surface warming: impact on toxic benthic dinoflagellates causing ciguatera. The Encyclopaedia of Life Sciences A23373, Wiley Publishing. (Elevated to keynote article).
Sparrow, L. and Heimann, K. (2007) The influence of nutrients and temperature on the global distribution of algal blooms: Literature review. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, ISBN 9781921359149.
Reviewed Industry Publications:
Heimann, K., Sparrow, L., Capper, A. and Blair, D. (2010) Final Report on seasonal sampling of toxic microalgae from the central GBR. June Final Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited. Cairns (19pp.)
Heimann, K., Sparrow, L., Capper, A. and Blair, D. (2010) Final Report on the development and implementation of questionnaires on ciguatera to be used for the general public, Indigenous communities and commercial fishers. June Final Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited. Cairns (31pp.)
Heimann, K., Sparrow, L., Capper, A. and Blair, D. (2010) Final Report on toxic dinoflagellate species identified within the Great Barrier Reef region The GBR atlas – a work in progress. June Final Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited. Cairns (49pp.)
Heimann, K., Sparrow, L. and Blair, D. (2009) Interim Report on laboratory culture of marine microalgae of the Great Barrier Reef toxic dinoflagellate cultures established at the North Queensland Algal Identification/Culturing Facility (NQAIF). March Interim Report (Part 1) to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited. Cairns (8pp.)
Heimann, K., Sparrow, L. and Blair, D. (2009) Interim Report on the development and implementation of questionnaires on ciguatera – general public, Indigenous communities and commercial fishers. January Interim Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited. Cairns (16pp.)
Sparrow, L. and Heimann, K. (2008) The influence of nutrients and temperature on the global distribution of algal blooms: Literature review. Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns (24pp.)
Australian Geographic Society – Seed Grant ($1,500) 2009
Key organisms in trophic transfer of ciguatera, Great Barrier Reef
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James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia
Phone: 61 7 4781 4000