laura-richardson-200x200ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University student Laura Richardson is conducting her PhD project at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station under the supervision of Andrew Hoey, Nick Graham and Morgan Pratchett, studying how the structure and function of reef fish assemblages can vary among different coral habitats.

Laura has studied, worked and volunteered at some magnificent coral reefs around the world. She commented on how the ‘people, place and activities’ were factors that contributed to great experiences and her chosen diverse top 3 were the Philippines were she learnt to dive in the year 2000, the Great Barrier Reef prior to the bleaching and the Red Sea in 2002. Other places worth mentioning are the years she spent working and volunteering in Mexico, Spain, Tonga, the Cayman Islands and the UK.

Laura’s research considers the influence of coral community composition on the structure and function of reef fish assemblages. Shifts in coral communities have been recorded due to different disturbances including climate change and pollution, leading to reefs dominated by more stress resilient and/or weedy species. These changes will have knock-on effects on the fish that use corals for food and refuge, but these impacts remain largely unknown.

Coral Rabbitfish © Andy Lewis

Coral Rabbitfish Siganus corallinus species used in Laura’s research © Andy Lewis

Laura’s project aims to assess how different coral assemblages influence (a) structural complexity at multiple within-reef scales, (b) the functional structure and size-spectra of associated fish communities, and (c) herbivory, a key ecosystem process.

Challenges Laura has encountered in her research has been ‘the recent coral bleaching event’ which meant adapting her research study, and ‘Cyclone Nathan (which) knocked out a whole research site’.