PhD Confirmation Seminar – Ms Julie Vercelloni

Coral reef resilience: a Bayesian approach for predicting the dynamics of marine communities under different environmental scenarios

Student: Ms Julie Vercelloni

When: Friday, 19 April 2013 1:00 PM-2:00 PM

Where: GP-S310


  • Pr. Kerrie Mengersen
  • Dr. Sama Low-Coy
  • Dr. Julian Caley

Review Panel:

  • Pr. Kerrie Mengersen
  • Dr. Sama Low-Coy
  • Dr. Julian Caley,
  • Dr. Adrian Barnett


Coral reefs are globally in decline due to ongoing increases in frequency, intensity, and diversity of disturbances. To protect these ecosystems, it is important to understand the resilience of coral communities, and to develop tools for predicting the trajectories of reef assemblages. Resilience is defined as the property of communities to recover by returning to their original abundance and structure. Though large datasets based on long-term observations of reefs exist, the development of predictive models of coral resilience is still in its infancy. Coral reef resilience derives from a complex set of ecological processes making its dynamics particularly difficult to model. Repeated observations of reefs have demonstrated that coral reefs dynamics are highly variable in space and time, and are likely to be driven by a very large number of interacting parameters making elucidation of such relationships difficult. By using nested regression equations, hierarchical models allow to investigate associations between variables at different scales, including the possibility to test for interactions across multiple scales. The application of Bayesian approaches to hierarchical modelling further opens new ways of dealing with estimation of model parameters, limitations in data availability, different sources of information and, lack of knowledge about underlying ecological processes. This project focuses on coral, fish, and algal dynamics, and the processes leading to their resilience on tropical reefs. Bayesian hierarchical modelling will provide an unprecedented opportunity to quantify the dynamics of these three dominant reef components, and their interactions, to better understand the conditions necessary for individual populations and communities to recover from disturbances. Our approach allows us to test the vulnerability of reef communities to disturbances and to predict ecosystem changes, and therefore will contribute to the protection of these natural heritages.


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