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.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

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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Michele Barnes

Michele Barnes

Research Fellow

NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2015 - 2017)

PhD Natural Resources & Environmental Management, University of Hawaii • Ocean Policy Graduate Certificate, University of Hawaii • B.A. Political Science, University of Hawaii

Barnes Lab: Social Dynamics and the Environment

James Cook University & University of Hawaii

+61 (0)7 4781 6328


I grew up poking around tide pools on the California coast, and have been fascinated with human behaviour and the oceans since I was a child. I completed a Master’s degree and PhD in Natural Resources & Environmental Management at the University of Hawaii in 2012 and 2015, where I was able to merge these interests by investigating how social networks, social capital, and ethnic diversity related to resource management outcomes in the most important commercial fishery sector in the Hawaiian Islands. During my spare time I contributed to a global analysis of the economic value of shark ecotourism while obtaining a graduate certificate in Ocean Policy (2013), also from the University of Hawaii. Throughout my tenure as a graduate student, I held adjunct faculty appointments in the Geography Department at the University of Hawaii and the Department of Financial Economics and Information Systems at Hawaii Pacific University. I also previously worked as a research specialist on a large project analyzing ecosystem service values in small-scale fisheries in Madagascar, and in the Socioeconomics and Planning Group at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, HI. From 2015 – 2017 I held a U.S. NSF Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, where I focused on developing an integrative network modeling framework to capture complex linkages in coral reef social-ecological systems. Throughout this time I held a visiting scholarship at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, where I am I now formally based as a Social Science Research Fellow.

Barnes Lab: Social Dynamics and the Environment

My research program is grounded by an understanding that human behavior is the primary force driving environmental change. Thus, if we want to manage ecosystems effectively and achieve conservation goals, we need to understand and manage people. To this end, my lab and I draw heavily on the interface between sociology and economics and incorporate insights from social-ecological systems theory to analyze social dynamics in environmental systems and how they relate to the sustainable use and governance of environmental resources. Our work is highly interdisciplinary, has an applied quantitative focus, and is largely concentrated on marine and coastal systems. We work to achieve actionable insights to improve environmental governance through the use of social network analysis, quantitative modeling, experiments, economic valuation, and qualitative insight, and by working closely with a range of social scientists, economists, ecologists, biologists, mathematicians, policymakers, and conservation and development practitioners.

Our current research focuses on three broad themes:

(1) Social networks, social capital, and environmental outcomes: Understanding how social dynamics drive outcomes in environmental systems is critical to advancing global sustainability. To meet this challenge, this body of work focuses on basic theories of social organization and how different patterns of social structure and social capital relate to outcomes in environmental systems. Investigations into social organization focus on different types of social networks at both small and large scales, include inquires related to network formation and function, and often focus on issues of sociocultural diversity. We investigate social, ecological, and economic outcomes at both the micro and macro level. Past and current projects have focused on social influence, cooperation, diffusion, adaptability, transformability, collective action, power dynamics, inequality, profitability, shark bycatch, trends in fish biomass, and human well-being. This work has been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, and the ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies, and has appeared in journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Social Networks, Ecology and Society, Ecological Economics, and Environmental Management. Current work in this area focuses on diffusion, social influence, inequality, power, and sociocultural diversity in coastal communities.

(2) Social-ecological networks: This body of work extends my first research theme to explicitly account for the linkages and feedbacks between social and ecological structures. In this era of unprecedented anthropogenic stress on natural capital essential for supporting human wellbeing, we must have a strong understanding of the linkages and feedbacks between people and nature. This challenge is particularly relevant for coral reefs which continue to decline globally, threatening biodiversity and the basic life supporting services they provide to humanity (see our recent publication in Nature). In an effort toward meeting this challenge, I am currently leading a collaborative project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies that advances a novel interdisciplinary network modeling framework to assess how social-ecological interdependencies within and between fishing communities and fisheries resources mediate outcomes in co-managed coral reef ecosystems. We are particularly interested in how different patterns of relationships within and between coastal communities and coral reef resources relate to adaptation, transformation, and resilience. This project is comparative in nature, including five sites in Kenya and two in Papua New Guinea, and involves a diverse array of collaborators from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Stockholm Resilience Center, CSIRO, University of Melbourne, University of Hawaii, Lancaster University, Conservation International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Learn more about this project here.

(3) Shark ecotourism, conservation, and management: Sharks play a critical role in marine ecosystems, yet many shark populations are under extreme pressure from shark finning and fishing. To address this, we draw on theory and methods from economics, political science, and psychology to investigate the effectiveness of shark conservation policies, the factors that affect individual attitudes and beliefs towards sharks, experiences that contribute to shark conservation behaviors, and the value of shark ecotourism. Results from this work have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Oryx, and current work in collaboration with One Ocean Research exploring the conservation value of shark ecotourism is in prep.

Lab Group:

PhD Opportunities

I am currently accepting applications from exceptional prospective PhD students with backgrounds in sociology, economics, political science, geography, computational social science, psychology, ecology, social-ecological systems, and related disciplines to work on one or more of the following topics:


Selected Publications

Google Scholar

Hughes T.P., Barnes, M.L., Bellwood, D.R., Cinner, J.E., Cumming, G.S., Jackson, J.B.C., Kleypas, J., van de Leemput, I., Lough, J., Morrison, T.H., Palumbi, S.R., van Nes E.H., & Scheffer, M. (2017). Coral reefs in the Anthropocence. Nature 546, 82-90.

Bodin, Ö., Barnes, M.L., McAllister, R.R.J., Rocha, J.C., and Guerrero, A.M. (2017). Social-ecological network approaches in interdisciplinary research: A response to Bohan et al. and Dee et al. Trends in Ecology and Evolution (in press).

Barnes, M.L., Arita, S., Kalberg, K., & Leung, P. (2017). When does it pay to cooperate? Strategic information sharing in the harvest of common-pool fishery resources. Ecological Economics, 131, 1-11.

Mbaru, E. & Barnes, M.L. (2017). Key players in conservation diffusion: Using social network analysis to identify critical injection points. Biological Conservation, 210, 222-232.

Barnes, M. L., Lynham, J., Kalberg, K., & Leung, P. (2016). Social networks and environmental outcomesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 6466-6471.

Barnes, M., Kalberg, K., Pan, M., & Leung, P. (2016). When is brokerage negatively associated with economic benefits? Ethnic diversity, competition, and common-pool resourcesSocial Networks45, 55-65.

Grafeld, S. L., Oleson, K. L., Barnes, M., C., Peng, Chan, C., & Weijerman, M. (2016). Divers’ Willingness to Pay for Improved Coral Reef Conditions in Guam: An Untapped Source of Funding for Management and Conservation? Ecological Economics 128, 202-213.

Lewison, R., Hobday, A. J., Maxwell, S., Hazen, E., Hartog, J. R., Dunn, D. C., Briscoe, D., Fosette, S., O’Keefe, C., Barnes, M., … & Abecassis, M. (2015). Dynamic ocean management: identifying the critical ingredients of dynamic approaches to ocean resource management. BioScience65(5), 486-498.

Barnes, M., Oleson, K. L., Brander, L. M., Zafindrasilivonona, B., Oliver, T. A., & van Beukering, P. (2015). Social capital as an ecosystem service: Evidence from a locally managed marine areaEcosystem Services,16, 283-293.

Oleson, K. L., Barnes, M., Brander, L. M., Oliver, T. A., Van Beek, I., Zafindrasilivonona, B., & Van Beukering, P. (2015). Cultural bequest values for ecosystem service flows among indigenous fishers: A discrete choice experiment validated with mixed methodsEcological Economics114, 104-116.

Barnes, M., Gray, S. A., Arita, S., Lynham, J., & Leung, P. (2015). What determines social capital in a social–ecological system? Insights from a network perspectiveEnvironmental Management55(2), 392-410.

Barnes, M., Oleson, K. L., & Zafindrasilivonona, B. (2013). The total economic value of small-scale fisheries with a characterization of post-landing trends: An application in Madagascar with global relevanceFisheries Research147, 175-185.

Cisneros-Montemayor, A. M., Barnes, M., Al-Abdulrazzak, D., Navarro-Holm, E., & Sumaila, U. R. (2013). Global economic value of shark ecotourism: implications for conservation. Oryx47(03), 381-388.

Barnes, M., Arita, S., Allen, S. D., Gray, S. A., & Leung, P. (2013). The influence of ethnic diversity on social network structure in a common-pool resource system: implications for collaborative managementEcology and Society18(1), 23.


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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