The Bellwood Lab

reef fish evolution and ecology

Prof. David Bellwood - Chief Investigator

David's research interests encompass the evolution and ecology of reef fishes. The central theme of his research is to understand the role that fishes play on coral reefs; from the origins of herbivory in the Cenozoic to the role of fishes in maintaining reef resilience. The approach is largely based on ecology, although it encompasses functional morphology, molecular phylogenetics, and palaeontology. At larger scales, David's interests include global biogeography and the conservation of coral reefs, particularly the role of biodiversity in ecosystem processes. David has maintained a research lab at James Cook University since 1991, supervising over 60 postgraduate students and teaching 3 undergraduate classes each year.


Dr. Chris Goatley - Lab Manager

Chris is originally from the UK where he completed a BSc (Hons.) in Marine Biology at the University of Newcastle. He has been at JCU since 2007 and after completing a Masters of Applied Science, he undertook a PhD supervised by David Bellwood, which addressed the ecological roles of sediments on coral reefs. Since completing his PhD in 2013 he has worked as a lab manager and researcher in the Bellwood Lab. Chris' other research interests include the ecomorphology of both extant and extinct reef fish assemblages.

Simon Brandl - PhD Student

Simon is originally from Munich, Germany. In the last year of his BSc at the University of Innsbruck, he investigated clingfishes (f. Gobiesocidae) in the Northern Adriatic Sea. This convinced him to embark on the pursuit of a research career in marine biology. After coming to James Cook University for a Master of Applied Science in 2011, he completed a research project examining the drivers of pair-formation in the rabbitfish Siganus doliatus . He started his PhD in 2012, studying patterns of niche partitioning in herbivorous reef fishes and their role in structuring benthic communities on coral reefs. He is predominantly interested in the the morphological and behavioural drivers of functional diversity in marine ecosystems.



Michael Kramer - PhD Student

Michael travelled from New Zealand in 2008 to study marine biology at JCU. He completed his BSc in 2011 and went on to complete an honours degree. On completion of his honours degree Michael began his PhD supervised by David and Orpha Bellwood. His research focuses on ecological interactions on coral reefs; specifically the community dynamics of crypto-benthic crustacea and their relationship with reef fish taxa.

James Kerry - PhD Student

​Originally from the UK, James became interested in marine life whilst living in South Africa, but spent several years working in politics before deciding to pursue a career in marine biology. He completed his Masters of Applied Science at JCU in 2011, having looked at the role of coral morphology on reef fish ecology. James' PhD considers further relationships between structural complexity of coral reefs and its effects on reef fish ecology. James is a keen writer and is passionate about effective science communication.


Matt Young - PhD Student

Matt’s research explores historical, ecological and social aspects of recreational fishing. As an avid angler and scientist, Matt endeavours to help find a sensible balance between fishing and preserving fish populations for future generations. Matt completed a BSc (Hons.) in marine ecology under the supervision of Prof. David Bellwood in 2009 and has worked for Prof. Terry Hughes at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies for the past 5 years. Matt also has an extensive media background as a TV presenter, writer and photographer. Matt is co-supervised by Dr. Simon Foale.


Sophie Gordon - Honours Student

Sophie finished her BSc in Marine Biology at JCU in 2013. She then enrolled in an Honours degree in The Bellwood Lab supervised by David Bellwood and Chris Goatley. In her honours research Sophie is studying how sediments affect herbivorous reef fishes, in particular, which physical properties deter feeding by functionally important species on coral reefs.

Joanna Khan - Research Assistant

Jo recently completed her Bachelor of Science (Marine Biology) at James Cook University. Growing up near the beaches of Victoria in southern Australia, and encouraged by her SCUBA diving parents, Jo developed her fascination with the ocean. Having finished her undergraduate degree, Jo is currently working as a research assistant with the Reef Fish Ecology Lab, and plans to commence her Honours in reef fish ecology in  September 2015.

Sterling Tebbett - Research Assistant

Sterling completed his BSc in marine biology (advanced) at JCU in 2014 and will be undertaking his honours in September 2015. In the meantime he is working as a research assistant in the Bellwood lab. Sterling has long held a passion for fish and has a significant background in aquaria. He is interested in the degradation and recovery of coral reefs and how fish fit into the equation.