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

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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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Sue-Ann Watson

Sue-Ann Watson

Senior Research Fellow

Senior Research Fellow ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University (2018-present)

Research Fellow ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University (2015-2017)

Research Associate ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University (2012-2015)

BSc (Hons) Biology, University of Nottingham • MSc Oceanography, University of Southampton & National Oceanography Centre • PhD Marine Biology, University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre & British Antarctic Survey

Program 2: Ecosystem Dynamics: Past, Present and Future
Program 3: Responding to a Changing World

James Cook University

+61 (0)7 4781 5270


Sue-Ann’s research focuses on the responses of marine organisms to change, both in space (along natural evolutionary gradients) and time (responses to environmental change). She is particularly interested in large scale evolutionary patterns and ecological trends in marine invertebrates and the effects of stressors such as ocean acidification, warming and water quality impacts including light availability (turbidity), nutrients and salinity on invertebrates, corals and fishes. Sue-Ann’s broad research interests include ecology, physiology, behavior, biogeography and the potential for acclimation and adaptation to change in marine organisms.

Research organisms include: bivalve and gastropod molluscs (oysters, giant clams, jumping snails, cone snails, pteropods), crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), hard and soft corals, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish (coral reef fish, kingfish, barramundi), brachiopods and sea cucumbers.

Research sites include: Australia, Singapore, French Polynesia, Antarctica, Arctic, UK, deep sea (Crozet Islands and North Atlantic abyssal plain), Falkland Islands and New Zealand.

Sue-Ann is originally from the UK and studied for a BSc (Hons) degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham and MSc in Oceanography from the National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton. With the University of Southampton and British Antarctic Survey, Sue-Ann researched evolutionary trends across latitudinal gradients in marine invertebrates to determine how adaptive traits change along environmental gradients from the tropics to the poles for her PhD, in collaboration with the National University of Singapore, University of Melbourne and James Cook University.

Sue-Ann Watson Website

Research Interests – environmental stressors and marine ecology

Publications online – Google Scholar

Publications online – JCU Research Online


Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year 2014

Australian Museum Eureka Prize awards – Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher finalist 2015

Australian Museum Eureka Prize awards – Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher finalist 2015

Rising Star of Queensland Science 2015 (Queensland Government)

Yulgilbar Foundation 2015-2016 Lizard Island Postdoctoral Fellowship, Australia

Institute of Pacific Coral Reefs 2016-2017 Fellowship award, Mo’orea, French Polynesia

Selected Publications

Watson, S.-A., Allan, B.J.M., McQueen, D.E, Nicol, S., Parsons, D.M., Pether, S.M.J., Pope, S., Setiwan, A.N., Smith, N., Wilson, C. & Munday, P.L. (2018). Ocean warming has a greater effect than acidification on the early life history development and swimming performance of a large circumglobal pelagic fish. Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/gcb.14290

McCormick, M.I., Watson, S.-A., Simpson, S.D. & Allan, B.J.M (2018). Effect of elevated COand small boat noise on the kinematics of predator–prey interactions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 20172650. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.2650

Spady, B.L., Munday, P.L. & Watson, S.-A. (2018). Predatory strategies and behaviours in cephalopods are altered by elevated CO2. Global Change Biology. 24: 2585-2596. doi: 10.1111/gcb.14098 (Cover image)

Watson, S.-A., Morley, S.A. & Peck, L.S. (2017). Latitudinal trends in shell production cost from the tropics to the poles. Science Advances. 3: e1701362. doi:10.1126/sciadv.1701362

Watson, S.-A., Fabricius, K.E. & Munday, P.L. (2017). Quantifying pCO2 in biological ocean acidification experiments: a comparison of four methods. PLoS ONE. 12(9): e0185469. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185469

Torda, G., Donelson, J.M., Aranda, M., Barshis, D.J., Bay, L., Berumen, M., Bourne, D., Cantin, N., Foret, S., Matz, M., Miller, D., Moya, A., Putnam, H., Ravasi, T., van Oppen, M., Vega-Thurber, R., Vidal-Dupiol, J., Voosltra, C.R., Watson, S.-A., Whitelaw, E., Willis, B. & Munday P.L. (2017). Rapid adaptive responses to climate change in corals. Nature Climate Change. 7, 627–636. doi:10.1038/nclimate3374 (Cover image)

Ferrari, M.C.O., McCormick, M.I., Watson, S.-A., Meekan, M.G., Munday, P.L. & Chivers, D.P. (2017). Predation in high CO2 waters: are prey fish from high-risk environments less susceptible to ocean acidification? Integrative and Comparative Biology. 57 (1): 55-62. doi: doi.org/10.1093/icb/icx030

Allan, B.J.M., Domenici, P., Watson, S.-A., Munday, P.L. & McCormick, M.I. (2017). Warming has a greater effect than elevated CO2 on predator prey interactions in coral reef fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 284: 20170784. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0784

Wessels, W., Sprungala, S., Watson, S.-A., Miller, D. J. & Bourne, D.G. (2017). The microbiome of the octocoral Lobophytum pauciflorum: minor differences between sexes and resilience to short-term stress. FEMS Microbiology Ecologydoi: 10.1093/femsec/fix013

Allen, J.D., Schrage, K.R., Foo, S.A., Watson, S.-A. & Byrne, M. (2017). The Effects of Salinity and pH on Fertilization, Early Development and Hatching in the Crown-of-Thorns Seastar. Diversity Special Issue on Crown-of-Thorns Seastars. 9, 13; doi: 10.3390/d9010013

Watson, S.-A., Fields, J. & Munday P.L. (2017). Ocean acidification alters predator behaviour and reduces predation rate. Biology Letters Invited Paper for the Special Feature ‘Ocean Acidification’. 13: 20160797. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0797

Nadler, L.E., Killen, S.S., McCormick, M.I., Watson, S.-A. & Munday, P.L. (2016). Effect of elevated carbon dioxide on shoal familiarity and metabolism in a coral reef fish. Conservation Physiology. 4 (1): cow052. doi: 10.1093/conphys/cow052

Moya, A., Howes, E.L., Lacoue-Labarthe, T., Teyssié, J.-L., Miller, D.J., Munday, P.L., Watson, S.-A., Torda, G., Hanna, B., Ong, J.-S., Forêt, S., Bijma, J. & Gattuso, J-P. (2016). Near future pH conditions severely impact calcification, metabolism and nervous system in the pteropod Heliconoides inflatus. Global Change Biologydoi: 10.1111/gcb.13350

Munday, P.L, Welch, M.J., Allan, B.J.M., Watson, S.-A., McMahon, S. & McCormick, M.I. (2016). Effects of elevated CO2 on predator avoidance behaviour by reef fishes is not altered by experimental test water. PeerJ. 4:e2501. doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2501

Watson, S.-A. (2015). Giant clams and rising CO2: Light may ameliorate effects of ocean acidification on a solar-powered animal. PLoS ONE. 10(6): e0128405. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128405

Rossi, T., Nagelkerken, I., Simpson, S.D., Pistevos, J.C.A., Watson, S.-A., Merillet, L., Fraser, P., Munday, P.L., Connell, S.D. (2015) Ocean acidification boosts larval fish development but reduces the window of opportunity for successful settlement. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 282: 20151954. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1954

Brien, H.V., Watson, S.-A. & Hoogenboom, M.O. (2016). Presence of competitors influences photosynthesis, but not growth, of the hard coral Porites cylindrica at elevated seawater CO2. ICES Journal of Marine Science – Special Issue on Ocean Acidification. 73 (3): 659-669. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv162

Munday, P.L., Watson, S.-A., Parsons, D.M., King, A., Barr, N.G., McLeod, I.M., Allan, B.J.M. & Pether, S.M.J. (2016). Effects of elevated CO2 on early life history development of the yellowtail kingfish, Seriola lalandi, a large pelagic fish. ICES Journal of Marine Science – Special Issue on Ocean Acidification. 73 (3): 641-649. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv210

Lefevre, S., Watson, S.-A., Munday, P.L. & Nilsson, G.E. (2015). Will jumping snails prevail? Influence of near-future CO2, temperature and hypoxia on respiratory performance in the tropical conch Gibberulus gibberulus gibbosus. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 218: 2991-3001. doi: 10.1242/jeb.120717

Heinrich, D.D.U., Watson, S.-A., Rummer, J.L., Simpfendorfer, C.A., Heupel, M.R. & Munday, P.L. (2016). Foraging behaviour of the epaulette shark Hemiscyllium ocellatum is not affected by ocean acidification. ICES Journal of Marine Science – Special Issue on Ocean Acidification. 73 (3): 633-640. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsv085

Ferrari, M.C.O., Munday, P.L., Rummer, J.L., McCormick, M.I., Corkill, K., Watson, S.-A. Allan, B.J.M., Meekan, M.G. & Chivers, D.P. (2015). Interactive effects of ocean acidification and global warming alter mortality and predator selectivity in reef fish communities. Global Change Biology. 21: 1848-1855. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12818

Welch, M.J., Watson, S.-A., Welsh, J., McCormick, M.I. and Munday P.L. (2014). Effects of elevated CO2 on fish behaviour undiminished by transgenerational acclimation. Nature Climate Change. 4: 1086-1089. doi:10.1038/nclimate2400

Spady, B.L., Watson, S.-A., Chase, T.J. & Munday, P.L. (2014). Projected near-future CO2 levels increase activity and alter defensive behaviours in a tropical squid Idiosepius pygmaeus. Biology Open. 000, 1–8. doi:10.1242/bio.20149894

Heinrich, D.D.U., Rummer, J.L., Morash, A.J., Watson, S.-A., Simpfendorfer, C.A., Heupel, M.R. & Munday, P.L. (2014). A product of its environment: The epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) exhibits physiological tolerance to elevated environmental CO2. Conservation Physiology. 2 (1): cou047 doi: 10.1093/conphys/cou047

Chivers, D.P., Ramasamy, R.A., McCormick, M.I., Watson, S.-A., Siebeck, U.E. & Ferrari, M.C.O. (2014). Temporal constraints on predation risk assessment in a changing world. Science of the Total Environment. 500-501: 332-338. Full text.

Watson, S.-A., Lefevre, S., McCormick, M.I., Domenici, P., Nilsson, G.E. & Munday, P.L. (2014). Marine mollusc predator-escape behaviour altered by near-future carbon dioxide levels. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences281: 20132377. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2377

Munday P.L., Watson S.-A., Chung, W.-S., Marshall, N.J. & Nilsson G.E. (2014) Response to ‘The importance of accurate CO2 dosing and measurement in ocean acidification studies’. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 217: 1828-1829. doi: 10.1242/jeb.105890

Chivers, D.P., McCormick, M.I., Nilsson, G.E., Munday, P.L., Watson, S.-A., Meekan, M.G., Mitchell, M.D., Corkill, K.C., Ferrari, M.C.O. (2014). Impaired learning of predators and lower prey survival under elevated CO2: a consequence of neurotransmitter interference. Global Change Biology. 20(2): 515-522. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12291

Domenici, P., Allan, B.J.M., Watson, S.-A., McCormick, M.I. & Munday, P.L. (2014). Shifting from right to left: the combined effect of elevated CO2 and temperature on behavioural lateralization in a coral reef fish. PLoS ONE9(1): e87969. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087969

Chung, W.-S., Marshall, N.J., Watson S.-A., Munday P.L. & Nilsson G.E. (2014) Ocean acidification slows retinal function in a damselfish through interference with GABAA receptors. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 217: 323-326. doi: 10.1242/jeb.092478

Watson, S.-A., Morley, S.A., Bates, A.E., Clark, M.S., Day, R.W., Lamare, M. Martin, S.M., Southgate, P.C., Tan, K.S., Tyler, P.A. & Peck, L.S. (2014). Low global sensitivity of metabolic rate to temperature in calcified marine invertebrates. Oecologia. 174: 45–54. doi: 10.1007/s00442-013-2767-8

McCormick, M.I., Watson, S.-A., Munday, P.L. (2013). Ocean acidification reverses competition for space as habitats degrade. Nature: Scientific Reports3: 3280. doi:10.1038/srep03280

Miller, G.M., Watson, S.-A., McCormick, M.I. & Munday, P.L. (2013). Increased CO2 stimulates reproduction in a coral reef fish. Global Change Biology. 19: 3037–3045. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12259

Rummer, J.L., Stecyk, J.A.W., Couturier, C.S., Watson, S.-A., Nilsson, G.E. & Munday, P.L. (2013). Elevated CO2 enhances aerobic scope of a coral reef fish. Conservation Physiology. 1(1): cot023. doi: 10.1093/conphys/cot023

Allan, B.J.M., Domenici, P., McCormick, M.I., Watson, S.-A. & Munday, P.L. (2013). Elevated CO2 affects predator-prey interactions through altered performance. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58520. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058520

Watson, S.-A., Peck, L.S., Tyler, P.A., Southgate, P.C., Tan, K.S., Day, R.W. & Morley, S.A. (2012). Marine invertebrate skeleton size varies with latitude, temperature and carbonate saturation: implications for global change and ocean acidification. Global Change Biology. 18: 3026-3038. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2012.02755.x

Miller, G.M., Watson, S.-A., Donelson, J.M., McCormick, M.I. & Munday, P.L. (2012). Parental environment mediates impacts of increased carbon dioxide on a coral reef fish. Nature Climate Change. 2: 858-861. doi:10.1038/nclimate1599

Nilsson, G.E., Dixson, D.L., Domenici, P., McCormick, M.I., Sørensen, C., Watson, S.-A., & Munday, P.L. (2012). Near-future carbon dioxide levels alter fish behaviour by interfering with neurotransmitter function. Nature Climate Change. 2: 201-204. doi:10.1038/nclimate1352

Watson, S.-A., Southgate, P.C., Miller, G.M., Moorhead, J.A. & Knauer, J. (2012). Ocean acidification and warming reduce juvenile survival of the fluted giant clam Tridacna squamosaMolluscan Research. 32(3): 177-180. Full text.

Munday, P.L., McCormick, M.I., Meekan, M., Dixson, D.L., Watson, S.-A., Chivers, D.P. & Ferrari, M.C.O. (2012). Selective mortality associated with variation in CO2 tolerance in a marine fish. Ocean Acidification. 1: 1-5. doi: 10.2478/oac-2012-0001

Watson, S.-A., Southgate, P.C., Tyler, P.A. & Peck, L.S. (2009). Early larval development of the Sydney rock oysterSaccostrea glomerata under near-future predictions of CO2-driven ocean acidification. Journal of Shellfish Research. 28(3): 431-437. doi: 10.2983/035.028.0302
(Most highly cited paper in the journal – April 2014.)











Media and outreach (selected)


WIN News – 6pm news: ‘JCU researchers have discovered the effect carbon dioxide has on cone snails’ (1 February 2017) (1:33 min) Television news coverage of with an interview of myself and the effects of ocean acidification on predator behaviour.

7 News – 6pm news: ‘JCU researchers have discovered a new weakness in the potentially deadly cone snail’ (1 February 2017) (1:43 min) Television news coverage of with an interview of myself and the effects of ocean acidification on predator behaviour.

ABC News – 7pm National news: ‘Sluggish snails – Researchers say jumping snails are under threat’ (15 January 2014) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-14/researchers-say-jumping-snails-are-under-threat/5200260 (1:29 min) Television news coverage of an interview with myself and demonstration of the effects of ocean acidification on molluscs and their antipredator responses.

ABC News 24: ‘Sluggish snails’ (27 January 2014) (1:29 min)


ABC Brisbane, ABC North Queensland, ABC Far North Queensland, Zinc 100.7 Townsville, 4BC Brisbane – ‘JCU Researchers have solved a 50 year old mystery about sea snails’ (21 Sept 2017) Radio news coverage of interviews with myself about the cost of sea shells on animals’ energy budgets, why tropical shells are larger, global trends with temperature, and future effects of ocean acidification.

ABC News – ‘Giant clams and climate change’ (18 June 2015) Radio news coverage of an interview with myself describing the impacts of ocean acidification on giant clams and how sufficient light levels can help reduce these effects.

ABC North Queensland, Townsville – 06:30, 07:30 and 08:30 News: ‘Carbon dioxide, rising acidity and the Australian seafood industry’ (7 July 2014) (0:51) Radio news coverage of with an interview with myself describing the effects of ocean acidification on seafood and the Ocean Acidification symposium I organised to be held at the Australian Marine Sciences Association conference in Canberra. Also on ABC News in Mackay, Rockhampton and Cairns.

ABC News – Radio national news: ‘Sluggish snails’ (14 January 2014) (c. 0:30 min) Radio news coverage of with an interview with myself describing the effects of ocean acidification on marine invertebrate behaviour.

ABC News – Radio national news: ‘High CO2 in ocean can cause brain damage in fish’ (23 January 2012) (2:45 min)


New York Times A Snail That Has a Jump on Climate Change’ (12 October 2015) Article and video.

New York Times – Climate Change Special Issue for the UN Climate Summit 2014 (23 September 2014) ‘On the Cusp of Climate Change’ in print edition and online http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/09/22/science/on-the-cusp-of-climate-change.html?_r=0 Report of an interview with myself describing behavioural impairment in marine invertebrates caused by ocean acidification and the broader consequences for our oceans. Part of a special report on the ecological consequences of climate change around the world.

AAAS Science News – ScienceShot: ‘Acidic oceans could impair fish vision’ (7 February 2014) http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2014/02/scienceshot-acidic-oceans-could-impair-fish-vision-0

ABC News online – regional sites (e.g. ABC North Queensland): ‘Climate change gets the jump on snails’ (14 January 2014) http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/01/14/3925534.htm

The Australian: ‘Climate change may slug leaping sea snails’ (9 January 2014) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/climate-change-may-slug-leaping-sea-snails/story-e6frgcjx-1226797445327

ABC Science Online: ‘Reef snails jump for their lives’ (5 July 2013) http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/07/05/3795110.htm

Huffington Post: ‘Ocean acidification could disrupt marine food chains, scientists say’ (8 August 2012)

The Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Crustaceans shellacked by climate change’ (6 August 2012)

Scientific American: ‘Ocean acidification thins marine creatures’ shells and could disrupt food chains’ (5 August 2012)

Reuters: ‘Ocean acidification could disrupt marine food chains’ (5 August 2012)

New Scientist: ‘Carbon dioxide encourages risky behaviour in clownfish’ (15 January 2012) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21355-carbon-dioxide-encourages-risky-behaviour-in-clownfish.html#.UwbGh_mSwrU

Australian Research Council highlighted research

ARC Research News: ‘Smart growth: marine snails know how to budget their housing costs’ (21 September 2017)

ARC Research News: ‘Acid trip makes clumsy cone snails miss their prey’ (9 February 2017)

ARC Research News: ‘Jumping snails left grounded in future oceans’ (7 January 2014) http://www.arc.gov.au/media/profiles.htm



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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