People

Professor Stephen Swearer 
stephen-swearer-3I am a Professor of marine biology at the University of Melbourne. At heart I am a larval fish biologist, with a keen interest in understanding how ecological processes that occur in early life influence the dynamics of populations. My research has recently taken a more applied focus by identifying the primary causes of extinction risk in fishes and coastal marine ecosystems, in order to inform better water, pollution, and fisheries management policies. Ultimately, my aim is to position REEF to be well placed to provide new solutions to some of society’s most pressing marine and coastal environmental challenges. More

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Dr. Rob Hale (Research Fellow)

RobI am an ecologist whose research falls broadly into two categories: (1.) investigating fundamental questions related to the population and behavioural ecology of aquatic taxa and (2.) understanding how aquatic ecosystems respond to disturbances and subsequent attempts to restore habitats and flows. My PhD, which focussed on the recruitment dynamics of diadromous galaxiids, was completed here at UoM in 2007 under the supervision of Steve Swearer (BioSciences) and Barb Downes (Geography). Since then, I have held post-doctoral positions at UoM, the Victorian government and Monash University.

Currently, my main focus is on investigating ecological traps in urban aquatic ecosystems, which neatly merges my theoretical and applied research interests. I am also involved in projects examining ecological responses to riparian management.

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Luke Barrett (PhD Student)

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I’m interested in how behavioural responses can mitigate or exacerbate the effects of habitat modification on animal populations. If animals make adaptive decisions by choosing the best habitats available, then they will maximise their fitness outcomes in modified landscapes. However, animals use simple cues to assess habitat quality, and if low quality modified habitats continue to provide cues associated with high quality, animals may make maladaptive decisions by failing to choose the best habitat available. These ‘ecological traps’ can, in severe cases, deplete populations disproportionately to their area by drawing in animals from surrounding, higher quality areas. My thesis applies the ecological trap framework to several marine systems modified by invasive species or aquaculture activities.

Ben Cleveland (PhD Student)

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I completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Marine Biology- Honours) at Deakin University Warrnambool in 2010. My Honours focused on Aquaculture Nutrition, looking at alternative lipid sources for aquafeeds. Specifically, in vivo omega-3 fatty acid biosynthesis and desaturase substrate competition in rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss.  After working as a Research Assistant with the Fish Nutrition team at Deakin University in 2011, I took some time off from research to see the world.

 Coming to Melbourne University in 2015, My PhD project focuses on the Restoration of Shellfish Reefs in Port Phillip Bay. Working with native flat oysters (Ostrea angasi), and blue mussels (Mytilus edulis planulatus), I am working on developing restoration methodology, and defining the ecosystem services provided by our lost shellfish reefs. It is a collaborative project with Fisheries, The Nature Conservancy and the Royal Albert Park Fishing and Yacht Club.The Project follows on from highly successful shellfish reef restoration projects undertaken by the Nature Conservancy in the United States.

My interests include the conservation and restoration of these marine habitats, the predator- prey interactions of native and invasive species in relevance to shellfish mortality and also changes in biodiversity and fish assemblages.

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Valeriya Komyakova (PhD Student)

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My interests predominantly lie in the area of marine fish ecology. I have been studying or working on various aspects of marine ecology for the last 12 years. I completed my Bachelor of Science (2004), Graduate Diploma of Research Methods (2005) and Masters of Science (2009) at James Cook University, Townsville. During both my GradDipResMeth and MSc my research was concentrated on investigating fish species specific habitat relationships. Later on I temporarily branched away from fish ecology and worked as a Research Assistant in a Subtidal Ecology and Ecotoxicology Laboratory at UNSW Sydney and later again I obtained a casual position as an Ecologist in CARDNO, Sydney. During my time in UNSW and CARDNO I actively participated in several projects that were investigating pollution effects on marine animal populations. My current PhD research is predominantly focussed on investigating the formation of ecological traps in the marine environment. In particular, I am investigating whether the introduction of artificial structures to the marine environment (e.g. artificial reefs) can cause the formation of “ecological traps” for fish populations and whether these effects may be design related. Man-made structures may provide seemingly suitable habitats for settlement, however they may not be accurate imitations of natural habitats and therefore may potentially result in lower fitness of individuals that preferentially settle to them. If animals preferentially choose to colonize such structures, this could result in an ecological trap. Although ecological traps are comparatively well documented in terrestrial systems their prevalence and importance for conservation and management of marine ecosystems is largely unknown.

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Matt Le Feuvre (PhD Student)

matt profile picI completed a Bachelor of Art/Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Melbourne with majors in marine biology, zoology and history. I continued into honours with the Swearer Lab, investigating the role of habitat complexity and resident competitors and predators on survival in the southern hulafish (Trachinops caudimaculatus) on artificial reefs in Port Phillip Bay. I then became a research assistant in the lab, working on temperate aquatic projects in Port Phillip, along the Victorian coastline and Melbourne’s estuaries. For a change of scene, I moved to central Australia for a couple of years and worked for a small environmental consultancy.

I’m currently a PhD student in the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne. My PhD, titled “Triple Jeopardy in the Tropics” investigates extinction risk in the freshwater fishes of the Kimberley Region of northwestern Australia. Specifically my project is divided into 4 parts. First I’m investigating the relationship between range size, body size and abundance in Australian freshwater fishes, and whether these patterns can be used to identify species at risk of extinction. Second, I’m assessing whether Kimberley endemic freshwater fishes have more specialised diet and habitat requirements than more widespread species. Third, I’m looking at growth rates and longevity in range restricted and widespread Kimberley freshwater fishes to assess whether some species have life history traits that make them more vulnerable to extinction. Finally, I’m determining how Kimberley fishes will respond to future climate change using flow respirometry.

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Juan Manuel Valero Rodríguez (PhD Student)

JuanmaWhat can motivate a Spaniard to travel 17.006,94 km and stablish here, in Melbourne? The answer is simple: research opportunities (and, let’s be honest, a little sense of adventure and madness).

All this started with my Biology degree (2011) at the University of Alicante. I was quite lost at first, like almost everyone in the university world but, without knowing it, I awoke an affinity towards management and conservation of the marine environment. During my fourth year I obtained a collaboration grant with the Department of Marine science and Applied Biology, where the amazing world of scientific research opened for me. There, I also worked on my master’s project, focused on the impact of cultured meagre –Argyrosomus regius- escapees from fish farms, on the natural resources of local fisheries.

After two Masters and a little work as a technician, I decided to take the opportunity and travel here in July 2015 to start a PhD focused on the different aspects and the possibilities of algae in human-influenced environments. On the one hand, the integration of freshwater macroalgae in the treatment of agricultural, municipal and industrial wastewaters offers an innovative technology to bioremediation contaminants while concomitantly delivering biomass of value. On the other, the proliferation of salt water species derived from nutrient excess could constitute a perfect habitat for local or invasive species, as well as a source of economicaly interesting products. The possibilities are fascinating.

James Shelley (PhD Student)

JamesMy principal interests lie in the evolution, ecology and conservation of freshwater fishes and invertebrates. My current project is focussed on the freshwater fish communities in the remote Kimberley region (WA) and aims to: (1) assess the true biodiversity of freshwater fishes in the Kimberley region using phylogenetic and morphometric analysis; (2) identify the key environmental factors influencing the distribution of freshwater fishes in the region; (3) determine the role of reproductive strategy in causing disparate range sizes among congeneric species; (4) compare the extinction risk faced by congeneric widespread and range restricted species using population genetic analysis. My fieldwork has lead to many novel interactions with northern Australian wildlife, including a tussle with a freshwater croc (see above picture). I am willing to put my body on the line for my research.

Michael Sievers (PhD Student)

SieversI completed a Masters degree at the University of Melbourne investigating the competitive interactions between cultured mussels and biofouling. Following this, I had a variety of jobs, from intertidal sampling along Australia’s East coast to investigating the effects of hypoxia in Atlantic salmon in Norway. I started my PhD in January this year, focusing on the ecological implications of artificial wetlands in urban landscapes. Briefly, we aim to: conduct a comprehensive assessment of the ecological risks and benefits of artificial wetlands to native frogs; define management guidelines to assess wetland condition, mitigate the potential environmental consequences, and improve their design; and develop novel tests of how pollutant exposure affects the sensory development and behavioural ecology of frogs. These experiments will shed new light into the potential creation and persistence of ecological traps

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Oliver Thomas (PhD Student)

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I am broadly interested in the application of biochemical and chemical principles to fish ecology. Specifically, I have two main interests; the disruption of the proper functioning of neural and biochemical pathways via waterborne contaminants, and the chemistry of the structure of fish otoliths. My PhD is focussed on the latter, being part of a larger ARC linkage project investigating Black Bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri) dispersal, recruitment and habitat use in the Gippsland Lakes. My role involves comparing otoliths taken from juvenile bream in seagrass nurseries in the Gippsland Lakes with otoliths of larvae caught, during the previous year, in the major tributaries that flow into the lakes. It is hoped that, through comparison of larval chemical signatures with juvenile otolith core signatures, we will be able to determine any given individual’s natal estuary, and so have a better understanding of the dynamics of recruitment and dispersal.

Cassandra Pert (Master Student)

Cassandra PertI completed a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma of Languages at the University of Melbourne in 2014. In 2015, I began my Master of Science looking at whether harvesting purple sea urchins from barrens can be made commercially viable through roe enhancement. Specifically, I aim to (1) determine if the gonad index of urchins from barrens increases faster and to a higher level compared to urchins from kelp beds after reconditioning on a high quality diet; and (2) evaluate the effects of temperature manipulation on the gonad index and quality of post-spawned sea urchins. This work will be the foundation for a potential sea urchin aquaculture industry in Port Phillip Bay that will provide new economic opportunities while simultaneously solving the pressing environmental problem of urchin barrens.

Tim Brown (Master Student)

tim-brownI have a broad research interest in aquatic ecology. In 2014, I completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in marine biology and a Diploma of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Melbourne. I joined the Swearer Lab in 2016 to begin my Master of Science. My research project focuses on investigating the impacts of the invasive mosquitofish on a small threatened wetland fish, the dwarf galaxias. I aim to quantify the impacts on each life stage of the dwarf galaxias and assess their behavioural responses to mosquitofish. This will help inform a reintroduction plan for dwarf galaxias undertaken by Melbourne Water and is part of a larger project focusing on ecological traps in urban aquatic ecosystems.

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