PhD (University of California-Davis)
Position: Professor / Director of The Centre for Marine Science

Room: 837 Gehrmann Laboratories 60
Phone: +61 7 3365 3050


Research Interests 

Ecological dynamics of coral reef ecosystems over broad spatial and temporal scales
My research investigates long-term ecological and environmental time series data over broad spatial scales to discover the major past and predicted future influences of natural variability, human impact, and climate change on coral reef resilience. This research program enables direct linkage among physical variables and biological responses, attempts to parse out the effects of human versus natural variability, provide natural baselines with which managers can use to place restoration goals in context, unveils processes that contribute to the resilience of coral reefs over long time frames and changing environmental conditions, and fosters a deep temporal perspective of the role of climate change in coral reef ecology. 


Using Historical Ecology to guide reef management actions
We use historical events and diverse ecological data sets to tease apart anthropogenic from natural factors that have or may influence present coral reef biodiversity. Data obtained from the Quaternary fossil record (past 2 MA), archaeological records (thousands to tens of thousands of years), historical records, government records of fishing practices and stocks, environmental proxies derived from living and fossil corals, and modern ecological surveys provide a holistic view of changing environments and ecology on coral reefs against which the acquisition of present changes can be evaluated. Correlation of species or ecosystem decline with specific human and environmental impacts over time provides insight into the processes that are most important in the degradation of marine ecosystems. When these processes are uncovered, specific steps can be taken to ameliorate or reverse the decline.


  • Palaeoecological analysis of community structure of coral reef organisms (Great Barrier Reef; Line Islands; Sub-tropical Queensland coast; Papua New Guinea; Solomon Islands)

  • Estimating historical population sizes of Australian marine taxa using genetic analyses (Great white sharks; other commercial and recreational fisheries)

Effects of climate change on coral reefs and sub-tropical ecosystems

The Marine Palaeoecology Lab conducts various investigations into the effects of climate change on coral reef and sub-tropical habitats using sediment coring and analysis of fossil assemblages as well as modern ecological surveys. Our cores provide important information on the response of coral reef communities to natural and anthropogenic climate change, as well as other anthropogenic stressors. Analysis of calcification of corals within cores provides long-term information on the response of individual coral species to changing sea surface temperatures and aragonite saturation states.


  • Species range shifts in response to past and present climate change (Western Australia coast; Great Barrier Reef; sub-tropical Queensland and New South Wales coasts)

  • Calcification over the past few thousands of years (Great Barrier Reef; Line Islands)

The origins and evolutionary turnover of Indo-Pacific reefs

Our lab is one of the founding participants of the Indo-Pacific Ancient Ecosystems group (IPAEG), which is attempting to unravel the evolutionary history of coral reef development in the Indo-Pacific Ocean over the past tens of millions of years.


  • Linking marine biotic evolution and carbonate platform development in the South China Sea (Sarawak, Malyasia; Phillippines)

Hybridization, extinction, and evolution in a Caribbean reef coral species complex

Recent molecular analyses indicate that many reef coral species belong to hybridizing species complexes or ‘‘syngameons.’’ Such complexes consist of numerous genetically distinct species or lineages, which periodically split and/or fuse as they extend through time. During splitting and fusion, morphologic intermediates form and species overlap. Here we focus on processes associated with lineage fusion, and the recognition of such hybridization in the fossil record. Our approach involves comparing patterns of ecologic and morphologic overlap in genetically characterized modern species with fossil representatives of the same or closely related species. We also consider the long-term consequences of past hybridization on the structure of modern-day species boundaries. Our studies involve the species complex Montastraea annularis s.l., with which we also conduct parallel studies on long-term evolutionary history, palaeoecology, and rates of origination and extinction.

Selected Publications

Pandolfi, J.M., Connolly, S., Marshall, D. and Cohen, A. 2011.  Projecting coral reef futures under global warming and ocean acidification.  Science 333: 418-422.

Lybolt, M., Neil, D., Zhao, J-x., Feng, Y-x., Yu, K-F., and Pandolfi, J.M., 2011. The shift from natural to human-dominated seascapes: a history of instability in marginal coral reefs. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 9: 154–160.

Budd, A.F and Pandolfi, J.M. 2010. Evolutionary novelty is concentrated at the edge of coral species distributions. Science 328: 1558-1561.

Tager, D., Webster, J.W., Potts, D. C., Renema, W., Braga, J. C. & Pandolfi, J.M. 2010. Community dynamics of Pleistocene coral reefs during alternative climatic regimes. Ecology 91, 191-200.

Renema, W., David Bellwood, Juan Carlos Braga, Kate Bromfield, Robert Hall, Kenneth G. Johnson, Peter Lunt, Christopher P. Meyer, Laura McMonagle, Robert J. Morley, Aaron O’dea, Jonathan A. Todd, Frank P. Wesselingh, Moyra E.J. Wilson, and John M. Pandolfi. 2008. Hopping hotspots: Global shifts in marine biodiversity. Science 321: 654-657.

Greenstein, B.J., and Pandolfi, J.M. 2008. Escaping the heat: Range shifts of reef coral taxa in coastal Western Australia. Global Change Biology 14: 513-528.

Professional Associations

  • The Paleontological Society

  • International Society for Reef Studies

  • President of the Australian Coral Reef Society (ACRS)

  • International Association on Fossil Cnidaria

Go to top