Scientific publications based on field work at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station show the quality and scope of its science.  

The Station’s 2018 Report lists 107 such publications from that year – all written or closely supervised by eminent scientists, and most published in leading peer-reviewed journals. Here we highlight 15 subject areas, in alphabetical order:  

Archaeology: see Stones tell ancient human story of Lizard Island

Ian McNiven in an archaeological midden pit on Lizard Island. These shells record thousands of years of human feasting on local seafood.  @ Sean Ulm


Cleaning:  Tiny cleaner fish and shrimps remove parasites from large fish clients. This phenomenon was the focus in 6 of the publications. See Learning from the cleaners

A pair of bluestreak wrasse Labroides dimidatus (aka Common Cleanerfish) attending a Parrotfish Scarus frenatus © Andy Lewis


Climate:  Cyclones and abnormally high sea temperatures have caused massive damage to the Reef. 22 of the publications report on how this is affecting the ecosystem from a marine science perspective, with particular reference to corals and fish.  Another compares tropical and high Arctic aerosols.

Coral:  11 publications focus specifically on coral.  They report on the contrasting abundance of juveniles and adults; changes in demography; fish that moderate susceptibility to bleaching; allometric growth; the relationship between coral-eating fish and coral disease; coral-associated bacteria; and symbiodinium. 

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish: There are 3 important publications on CoTS.  One reports environmental clearance for use of household vinegar as a culling agent.  One reports on diet-induced shifts in the CoTs larval microbiome. And one reports on a super-efficient method of detection using eDNA. See Horror, wonder and science of CoTS.

Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson injecting COTS with household vinegar at Lizard Island. © Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson


Ecology is interaction among organisms and with their environment.  Most marine science touches on such interaction.  20 of the publications are especially ecological. They focus on polychaetes; corals; fish; the role of reef flats; foraminifera; effects of hypoxia and ocean acidification; how seabirds enhance local reef productivity and are affected by invasive rats; how coral communities affect fish communities; seagrass; cyclones; bleaching; giant clams; urchins; sediment; algal turf; mesopredators; and sustainable fish farming.

Ethology is the study of animal behaviour.   25 publications report on mutualistic behaviour; the effect of parasites; how mantis shrimp behaviour evidences ultraviolet vision; how background risk affects coral fish behaviour; fish settlement; fish learning and number discrimination; fish sociality; how oil exposure impairs behaviour; how behaviour determines survival; fish pair bonding; escape performance; magnetic navigation; and predator effects, 

Genetics feature in 7 of the publications. Most illuminate taxonomy and evolution. As noted above, one describes a super-efficient method of detecting CoTS.

Geology: One publication (a PhD thesis) reports on fixed intertidal biological indicators and Holocene sea level on the Great Barrier Reef.

Taxonomy was featured in 29 of the publications.  They provide new records and describe many new species and relationships. See In praise of taxonomy.

Sound: 6 publications, reporting on how boat noise impacts fish embryos and the learning & survival of juvenile fish; how it impacts the kinematics (movement) of predator-prey interactions; auditory settlement; and use of passive acoustic monitoring for long term ecological survey. See Reef soundscapes & larval fish

Tim Gordon setting up the soundscape project at Lizard Island © Steve Simpson, University of Exeter


Parasites: 13 of the publications report on marine parasites.  They describe many new species. One indicates cleaner shrimp could be a sustainable option to treat parasitic disease in farmed fish. 

Physiology: 12 of the publications report on the physiology of marine species, including surgeonfish, inbuild capacities for underwater navigation, tumor-like growth anomalies in corals and mantis shrimp brains.

Pollution: 5 publications report on marine pollution. One shows Estradiol (a hormone used to reduce human menopause discomfort) shapes the mutualistic behaviour of female cleaner fish. One is on the effects of boat noise. One reports on the effects of oil exposure. The fourth is a very important study on Microplastics and other marine microdebris.

Vision: 9 publications report on vision in marine species, especially advancing understanding of the amazing vision of mantis shrimps. One shows that how the polarised vision of some marine species could provide a capacity for celestial navigation. 

Mantis shrimp Odontodactylus scyllarus © Roy Caldwell. Both this species and Gonodactylus smithii rotate their eyes to align particular photoreceptors relative to the angle of polarization of a linearly polarized visual stimulus, thereby maximizing the polarization contrast between an object of interest and its background. This is the first documented example of any animal displaying dynamic polarization vision, in which the polarization information is actively maximized through rotational eye movements.


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If you have read this far and kept count you will have noticed most publications touch on more than one subject area. Our subject list is not exhaustive; the lines of demarcation are not sharp; and the mix of subjects varies from year to year.  Fully digesting such a large body of scientific literature into such a short blog post is mission-impossible. We hope you at least come away with a renewed sense of the value and wonder of the science we all support.  There are also  2,173 earlier publications in the Station’s library, reporting the results of local field research over the past 42 years.

Our classifications and full reference details for the 2018 publications are available here (Excel file, 69KB).  Column A shows catalogue numbers in the Lizard Island Research Station library. Column B numbers correspond to those in the Publications section of the Station’s 2018 Report.  Dr Anne Hoggett compiled the Author, Title & Citation data and reviewed a draft of the Grouping table, but any errors there or in this post are mine alone. 

David Shannon, LIRRF Trustee