Theme 3 Scott Nichol: National ecosystems knowledge

This theme delivered new datasets and models that characterise large-scale processes influencing marine biodiversity patterns on a national scale. It focused on areas prioritised by the Department of the Environment through marine bioregional planning, such as the Commonwealth Marine Reserve network.

A larval dispersal model was developed to help understand connectivity across the marine estate, with a focus on Key Ecological Features and marine protected areas. The theme also produced new genetic data on the taxonomy of brittle stars and squat lobsters to better understand biogeographic patterns of benthic biodiversity, nationally and globally.

Thirty-six national marine datasets (new and updated) were compiled and published. These included descriptions of sea floor topography and sediments, submarine canyons, sea-surface water quality and seabed exposure to waves and currents, as well as national catalogues of marine biota, including rare and threatened species.

New insights into seafloor processes associated with physical features on the continental shelf (reefs, bank, pinnacles, canyon heads) were gleaned from field research undertaken in themes 1 and 4, particularly the expedition to Oceanic Shoals Commonwealth Marine Reserve, where hard-ground reefs influenced seafloor biological communities and fish aggregations.

High resolution multibeam sonar image.

ABOVE: High resolution multibeam sonar image of the seabed in the Oceanic Shoals Commonwealth Marine Reserve. Image: Geoscience Australia

End-user engagement

Representatives from the Department were engaged in meetings and discussions to share progress reports and highlights. The engagement built trust and understanding, and facilitated the collaborative development of summary documents and provision of data through the Australian Ocean Data Network.

Building capacity

High performance computing and satellite data analysis was developed and applied to modelling connectivity and sea-surface dynamics, and gene sequencing and machine learning methods were applied to understanding biogeographic structure and benthic biodiversity prediction.


Continuing engagement with the Department has ensured the accessibility and utility of research outputs. Further improvements are possible by increasing the direct links between departmental and research data systems. Models and datasets produced in this theme have been used by researchers inside and outside the Marine Biodiversity Hub.

Scott Nichol

Research partners

Australian Institute of Marine Science


Dalhousie University, Canada

Geoscience Australia

Integrated Marine Observing System

Museé National d’Histoire Naturelle du Luxembourg

Museum Victoria

National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University

Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia

University of Melbourne


Scott Nichol
(02) 6249 9346