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

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

Visiting Research Fellow

University of Hawaii/ James Cook University

+61 (0)7 4781 6328

I grew up poking around tide pools on the California coast, and have been absolutely fascinated with both human behaviour and the oceans since I was a child. I completed a Master’s degree and PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Hawaii in 2012 and 2015 (respectively), 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. Driven by a passion for sharks, 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.

My research program is highly interdisciplinary and has an applied, quantitative focus. Drawing heavily on the interface between sociology and economics and incorporating insight from social-ecological systems theory, we analyze human behavior, social networks and social capital, and environmental values; and investigate how they relate to the sustainable use and governance of marine and coastal resources. The goal of my research program is to provide a better understanding of the linkages and feedbacks between norms and values among diverse groups of people (the social system); the production, exchange, and allocation of goods and services (the economic system); and nature (the ecological system) in order to improve marine and coastal governance. To achieve this goal, my lab and I use social network analysis, quantitative modeling, experiments, economic valuation, and qualitative insight and work closely with a range of ecologists, biologists, engineers, economists, social scientists, policymakers, and conservation and development practitioners.

My current research focuses on four broad themes:

(1) Social networks and outcomes in environmental systems: 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 relate to outcomes in environmental systems. Investigations into social organization focus on different types of social networks at both small and large scales, and include inquires related to network formation and function. We investigate social, ecological, and economic outcomes at both the micro and macro level. Past and current projects have examined cooperation, diffusion, adaptability, transformability, collective action, social capital, power dynamics, equity, profitability, shark bycatch, trends in fish biomass, and human well-being. Much of this work has been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Coupled-Human Natural Systems program in collaboration with the Social-Ecological Complexity and Adaptation in Marine Systems Group at Princeton University, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, and has appeared in journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Social Networks, Ecology and Society, Ecological Economics, and Environmental Management.

(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. In an effort toward meeting this challenge, I am currently leading a collaborative project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation 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 coral reef ecosystems. This project is comparative in nature, including five sites in Kenya, three in Papua New Guinea, and two in Solomon Islands, 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) Socio-cultural ecosystem service values: Ecosystem services, or the benefits that people obtain from nature, are critical for supporting human well-being. This body of work focuses on the most understudied ecosystem services: the socio-cultural values tied to non-material benefits that arise from the relationships people form with nature. Here, we focus not only on how different aspects of the environment are linked to socio-cultural values, but also how changes in ecosystem health affect the socio-cultural benefits that people obtain from nature. Our work in this area has been published in Ecological Economics and Ecosystem Services, and through collaborations with local practitioners, has made practical contributions to coastal and marine management initiatives in Madagascar, Hawaii, and Guam.

(4) 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 potential and value of shark ecotourism. Results from this work have been published in Oryx in collaboration with researchers from the University of British Columbia, and current projects span both local and global contexts.

I am currently accepting applications from exceptional PhD students with backgrounds in sociology, economics, political science, geography, computational social science, psychology, spatial ecology, social-ecological systems theory, and related disciplines.


Selected Publications

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.

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