Chris Fulton

Group membership

Chris completed his PhD on the ecomorphology of coral reef fishes at James Cook University (2005), followed by a post-doctoral position in macroalgal community dynamics at JCU (2005-2006), before taking up his current lectureship at ANU (2006-present), where he is now Associate Professor in Aquatic Ecology. Chris works on a range of research topics that concern both marine and freshwater ecosystems (please see Research tab above), and he also explores new ways of teaching and learning ecological concepts in higher education settings (please see Teaching tab above). Chris is past President of the Australian Society for Fish Biology.

Research interests

I am interested in how shifts in habitat quantity and quality shape patterns of fish abundance and diversity over space and time. My current focus is determining how seaweed-dependent fishes respond to shifts in habitat quality arising from seasonal and climatic effects upon canopy-forming seaweeds along tropical and temperate coasts. Our lab group works with multiple taxa (plants & animals) from a range of biomes (coral & rocky reefs) to explore several themes:

Ecosystem ecology in terms of how and why aspects of the abiotic and biotic environment structure aquatic communities at local, regional and global biogeographic scales. Early work utilised key ecomorphological traits to uncover assembly rules in tropical and temperate reef fish communities along wave energy gradients (Bellwood et al. 2002Fulton & Bellwood 2004Fulton & Bellwood 2005) and community-level energetics of coral reef fish assemblages (Depczynski et al. 2007). More recently we have been using biotic and abiotic variables to understand and model changes in coral reef seaweed communities (Bellwood & Fulton 2008Fulton et al. 2019, Lim et al. 2016), crayfish communities in mountain streams (Noble & Fulton 2016), kelp forests (Wernberg et al. 2016), and the role of protected areas and nursery habitats in maintaining reef fish populations and communities (e.g., Noble et al. 2013, Fulton et al. 2016, Wilson et al. 2017).

Behavioural ecology of fishes in response to different environmental conditions. We have examined the amphibious behaviour of fishes in response to predation pressure (Ord et al. 2017), daily activity budgets and patterns of water-column use (Fulton et al. 2001, Layton & Fulton 2014), habitat selection and modes of swimming behaviour during foraging (Fulton & Bellwood 2002Pink & Fulton 2014) and shifts in swimming behaviour under changing environmental conditions (Heatwole & Fulton 2013, Noble et al. 2014).

Swimming physiology of fishes in relation to their morphology, speed performance and energetics. Our work has explored the exceptional diversity of swimming modes and speeds in coral reef fishes (e.g., Fulton 2007), the swimming performance of Barramundi under thermal stress (Edmunds et al. 2010), and the exceptional energetic efficiency of coral reef wrasses (Fulton et al. 2013).

Ecomorphology & ecophysiology of marine and freshwater fishes in response to gradients of flow and/or temperature. We have linked the fin shape of coral reef fishes with their distribution across wave energy gradients (Fulton et al. 2005), revealed the flow specialisation of tropical freshwater gobies is underpinned by their swimming performance (Donaldson et al. 2013), and identified local adaptation to flow and temperature in freshwater and marine fishes (Edmunds et al. 2012, Fulton et al. 2013, Fulton et al. 2017). 

Field survey methods are crucial for many apsects of our research, and so we are constantly taking advantage of new technologies to develop novel ways of recording aquatic organisms behaving in their environment. This has included development of new manual visual survey techniques (e.g., Fulton et al. 2001), trialling the use of manual and video-based observations of fish and crayfish behaviour and distribution patterns (e.g., Fulton & Bellwood 2008, Pink & Fulton 2015, Fulton et al. 2012, King et al. 2018).

Science communication because conveying our research findings is an essential part of the process, we are always keen to explore new ways of communicating scientific concepts to a diverse audience via various mediums (e.g. word cloud visualisation above) in both educational and general public settings. One foci has been the use of graphical methods to enhance cross-cultural and multi-lingual communication of concepts in marine conservation.

Recent grants

  • 2017-2018 How will marine climate change affect seaweed growth on coral reefs? $25K: Thomas Davies Research Grant, Australian Academy of Science.
  • 2016-2017 Students as teachers: guidelines for effective co-creation of online resources. $10K: Teaching Enhancement Grant, ANU.
  • 2013-2016 Ecological monitoring of threatened fish and aquatic habitat in the Cotter River. $357K: ACTEW Corp. (in collaboration with University of Canberra)
  • 2012 Promoting deep learning in the cross-college introductory Earth Systems class using new online and research-led approaches. $10K: Vice-Chancellor's Teaching Enhancement Grant, ANU.
  • 2011-2012 How does climate influence seaweed patch dynamics on the Great Barrier Reef? $11,000: Yulgilbar Foundation Fellowship, Australian Museum.
  • 2009-2013 Biophysical coupling in coral reef ecosystems. $560K: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
  • 2009-2011 Behavioural aggression by Gambusia on native fishes. $68K: Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
  • 2008-2009 Conservation ecology of Murray River Crayfish in the ACT. $169K: ACTEW Corp.
  • 2008 Digital approaches to marine ecology. $10K: ANU Equipment Grant.
  • 2007-2009 Mitigating barriers to migration of the endangered Macquarie Perch. $81K: ACTEW Corp.


Selected publications

  • (full publications lists ResearchGateGoogleScholarORCID 0000-0002-1140-1999).
  • Fulton, C.J., Berkström, C., Wilson, S.K., Abesamis, R., Bradley, M., et al. (in press). Macroalgal meadow habitats support fish and fisheries in diverse tropical seascapes. Fish and Fisheries doi:10.1111/faf.12455  Link to paper
  • Chen, Y.-Y., Cooper, P., Fulton, C.J. (in press). Sargassum epifaunal communities vary with canopy size, predator biomass and seascape setting within a fringing coral reef ecosystem. Marine Ecology Progress Series
  • Quaas, Z., Harasti, D., Gaston, T.F., Platell, M.E., Fulton, C.J. 2019. Influence of habitat condition on shallow rocky reef fish communities around islands and headlands of a temperate marine protected area. Marine Ecology Progress Series 626, 1-13 Link to paper (Feature Article, open access)
  • Cresswell, A., Langlois, T.J., Wilson, S.K., Claudet, J., Thomson, D.P., Vanderklift, M., Babcock, R.C., Stuart-Smith, R.D., Fulton, C.J., et al. 2019. Disentangling the response of fishes to recreational fishing over 30 years within a fringing coral reef reserve network. Biological Conservation 237, 514-524 Link to paper
  • Fulton, C.J., Abesamis, R., Berkström, C., Depczynski, M., Graham, N.A.J., Holmes, T.H., Kulbicki, M., Noble, M.M., Radford, B.T., Tano, S., Tinkler, P., Wernberg, T., Wilson, S.K. 2019. Form and function of tropical macroalgal reefs in the Anthropocene. Functional Ecology 33, 989-999 Link to paper
  • Noble, M.M., Fulton, C.J., Pittock, J. 2018. Looking beyond fishing: conservation of keystone freshwater species to protect a diversity of socio-economic values. Aquatic Conservation: Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems 28, 1424-1433  Link to paper
  • van Lier, J.R., Wilson, S.K., Depczynski, M., Wenger, L.N., Fulton, C.J. 2018. Habitat connectivity and complexity underpin fish community structure across a seascape of tropical macroalgae meadows. Landscape Ecology 33, 1287-1300 Link to paper
  • Bellwood, D.R., Tebbett, S., Bellwood, O., Mihalitsis, M., Morais, R., Streit, R., Fulton, C.J. 2018. The role of the reef flat in coral reef ecosystems: past, present and future. Ecology and Evolution 8, 4108-4119 Link to paper
  • Wenger, L.N., van Lier, J.R., Fulton, C.J. 2018. Microhabitat selectivity shapes the seascape ecology of a carnivorous macroalgae-associated tropical fish. Marine Ecology Progress Series 590, 187-200 Link to abstract
  • Wilson, S.K., Depczynski, M., Fisher, R., Holmes, T.H., Noble, M.M., Radford, B.T., Rule, M., Shedrawi, G., Tinkler, P., Fulton, C.J. 2018. Climatic forcing and larval dispersal capabilities shape the replenishment of fishes and their habitat-forming biota on a tropical coral reef. Ecology & Evolution 8, 1918-1928 Link to paper
  • King, A.J., George, A., Buckle, D.J., Novak, P.A., Fulton, C.J. 2018. Efficacy of remote underwater video cameras for monitoring tropical wetland fishes. Hydrobiologia 807, 145-164 Link to paper
  • Fulton, C.J., Wainwright, P.C., Hoey, A.S., Bellwood, D.R. 2017. Global ecological success of Thalassoma fishes in extreme coral reef habitats. Ecology & Evolution 7, 466-472 Link to paper
  • Ord, T.J., Summers, T.C., Noble, M.M., Fulton, C.J. 2017. Ecological release from aquatic predation is associated with the emergence of marine blenny fishes onto land. American Naturalist 189, 570-579 Link to paper
  • Wilson, S.K., Depczynski, M., Holmes, T.H., Radford, B., Tinkler, P., Fulton, C.J. 2017. Climatic conditions and nursery habitat quality provide indicators of reef fish recruitment strength. Limnology & Oceanography 62, 1868-1880 Link to paper
  • van Lier, J. R., Harasti, D., Laird, R., Noble, M. M., Fulton, C. J. 2017. Importance of soft canopy structure for labrid fish communities in estuarine mesohabitats. Marine Biology 164, 45 Link to paper
  • Every, S.L., Pethybridge, H.R., Fulton, C.J., Kyne, P.M., Crook, D.A. 2017. Niche metrics suggest euryhaline and coastal elasmobranchs provide trophic connections among marine and freshwater biomes in northern Australia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 565, 181-196
  • Starrs, T., Starrs D., Lintermans M., Fulton C.J. 2017. Assessing upstream invasion risk in alien freshwater fishes based on intrinsic variations in swimming speed performance. Ecol Freshw Fish 26, 75-86 Link to paper
  • Noble, M.M., Fulton, C.J. 2017. Habitat specialisation and sensitivity to change in a threatened crayfish occupying upland streams. Aquat Conserv Mar Freshw Ecosys 27, 90-102 Link to paper
    Media coverage: A big Australian crayfish, pretty and in trouble, Murray crayfish high country hideout under threat, Murray crayfish numbers drop by 90pc, Aussie river crayfish plummet due to habitat loss
  • Fulton, C. J., Noble, M. M., Radford, B., Gallen, C., Harasti, D. 2016. Microhabitat selectivity underpins regional indicators of fish abundance and replenishment. Ecological Indicators 70, 222-231 Link to paper Link to graphical abstract & blog
  • Wilson, S.K., Depczynski, M., Fulton, C.J., Holmes, T.H., Radford, B., Tinkler, P. 2016. Influence of nursery microhabitats on the future abundance of a coral reef fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 283, 20160903 Link to paper
  • Wernberg, T., Bennett, S., Babcock, R. S., de Bettignies, T., Cure, K., Depczynski, M., Dufois, F., Fromont, J., Fulton, C. J. et al. 2016. Climate-driven regime shift of a temperate marine ecosystem. Science 353, 169-172 Link to paper
    Media coverage: New Scientist, The Guardian, ABC News, Washington Post, The Atlantic
  • Wilson, L.J., Fulton, C.J., Joyce, K.E., Radford, B.T.M., Fraser, C.I. 2016. Climate-driven changes to ocean circulation and their inferred impacts on marine dispersal patterns. Glob Ecol Biogeog 25, 923-939 Link to paper
  • Lim, I.E., Wilson, S.K., Holmes, T.H., Noble, M.M., Fulton, C.J. 2016. Specialisation within a shifting habitat mosaic underpins the seasonal abundance of a tropical fish. Ecosphere 7, e01212 Link to paper
  • Starrs, D., Ebner, B.C., Fulton, C.J. 2016. All in the ears: unlocking the early life history biology and spatial ecology of fishes. Biological Reviews 91, 86-105 Link to paper
  • Cinner, J.E., Pratchett, M.S., Graham, N.A.J., Fulton, C.J. et al. 2016. A framework for understanding climate change impacts on coral reef social-ecological systems. Region Environ Change 16, 1133-1146 Link to paper
  • Kramer, M.J., Bellwood, O., Fulton, C.J., Bellwood, D.R. 2015. Refining the invertivore: diversity and specialisation in fish predation on coral reef crustaceans. Mar Biol 162, 1779-1786 Link to paper
  • Pink, J.R., Fulton, C.J. 2015. Fin spotting: efficacy of manual and video-based visual assessments of reef fish swimming behaviour. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 465, 92-98 Link to paper
  • Ebner, B.C., Fulton, C.J., Cousins, S., Donaldson, J.A., Kennard, M.J., Meynecke, J.-O., Schaffer, J. 2015. Filming and snorkelling as visual techniques to survey fauna in difficult to access tropical rainforest streams. Marine & Freshwater Research 66, 120-126 Link to paper
  • Fulton, C.J., Depczynski, M., Holmes, T.H., Noble, M.M., Radford, B., Wernberg, T.H., Wilson, S.K. 2014. Sea temperature shapes seasonal fluctuations in seaweed biomass within the Ningaloo coral reef ecosystem. Limnology & Oceanography 59, 156-166 Link to paper
  • Wilson, S.K., Fulton, C.J., Depczynski, M., Holmes, T.H., Noble, M.M., Radford, B., Tinkler, P. 2014. Seasonal changes in habitat structure underpin shifts in macroalgae-associated tropical fish communities. Marine Biology 161, 2597-2607 Link to paper
  • Noble, M.M., Pratchett, M.S., Coker, D.J., Cvitanovic, C., Fulton, C.J. 2014. Foraging in corallivorous butterflyfish varies with wave exposure. Coral Reefs 33, 351-361 Link to paper
  • Pink, J., Fulton, C.J. 2014. Right tools for the task: intraspecific modality in the swimming behaviour of coral reef fishes. Marine Biology 161, 1103-1111 Link to paper
  • Starrs, D., Davis, J.T.D., Schlaefer, J., Ebner, B.C., Eggins, S.M., Fulton, C.J. 2014. Maternally-transmitted isotopes and their effects on larval fish: a validation of dual isotopic marks within a meta-analysis context. Canadian Journal of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences 71, 387-397 Link to paper
  • Fulton, C.J., Binning, S.A., Wainwright, P.C., Bellwood, D.R. 2013. Wave-induced abiotic stress shapes phenotypic diversity in a coral reef fish across a geographical cline. Coral Reefs 32, 685-689. Link to paper
    Media coverage: Reef fish sink or swim in climate change watersIncreasing wave energy threatens reef fish
  • Walker, J.A., Alfaro, M., Noble, M.M., Fulton, C.J. 2013. Body fineness ratio as a predictor of maximum prolonged-swimming speed in coral reef fishes. PLoS ONE 8, e75422. Link to paper
  • Starrs, D., Ebner, B.C., Fulton, C.J. 2013. Can back-calculation models unravel complex larval growth histories in a tropical freshwater fish? Journal of Fish Biology 83, 96-110. Link to paper
  • Donaldson, J.A., Ebner, B.C., Fulton, C.J. 2013. Flow velocity underpins microhabitat selection by gobies of the Australian Wet Tropics. Freshwater Biology 58, 1038-1051. Link to paper
  • Fulton, C.J., Johansen, J.L., Steffensen, J.F. 2013. Energetic extremes in aquatic locomotion by coral reef fishes. PLoS ONE 8, e54033. Link to paper
  •       Media coverage: Robo-wrasseFast fish speed up potential for better ocean robots,Fastest fish can help develop submarine technologyTiny fish's swimming skill could speed up submarines, Tiny reef fish among ocean's fastest.
  • Heatwole, S.J., Fulton, C.J. 2013. Behavioural flexibility in coral reef fishes responding to a rapidly changing environment.Marine Biology 160, 677-689. Link to paper
  • Noble, M.M., van Laake, G., Berumen, M., Fulton, C.J. 2013. Community change within a Caribbean coral reef marine protected area following two decades of local management. PLoS ONE 8, e54069. Link to paper
    Media coverage: Reef fish holding on despite loss of corals, Saba marine park thrives.
  • Fulton, C.J., Starrs, D., Ruibal, M.P., Ebner, B.C. 2012. Counting crayfish: active searching and baited cameras trump conventional hoop netting in detecting Euastacus armatusEndangered Species Research 19, 39-45. Link to paper Link to video (Goobarragandra River) Link to video (Cotter River)
    Media coverage: Crayfish talesBig-smoke fibs exposedMurray cray TVVideo could save murray crayfish stars, ABC Splash
  • Edmunds, R.C., Smith-Keune, C., van Herwerden, L., Fulton, C.J., Jerry, D.R. 2012. Exposing local adaptation: synergistic stressors elicit population-specific lactate dehydrogenase-B (ldh-b) expression profiles in Australian barramundi, Lates calcariferAquatic Sciences 74, 171-178. Link to paper
  • Starrs, D., Ebner, B.C., Lintermans, M., Fulton, C.J. 2011. Using sprint swimming performance to predict upstream passage of the endangered Macquarie perch in a highly regulated river. Fisheries Management and Ecology 18, 360-374. Link to paper
    Media coverage: Caring for Macca
  • Edmunds, R.C., van Herwerden, L., Fulton, C.J. 2010. Population-specific locomotor phenotypes are displayed by barramundi, Lates calcarifer, in response to thermal stress. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 67, 1068-1074. Link to paper
  • Fulton, C.J. 2010. The role of swimming in reef fish ecology. In: Domenici, P., Kapoor, B.G. (eds) Fish swimming: an eco-ethological perspective. Chapter 12, Science Publishers, Enfield. Link to book chapter
  • Bellwood, D.R., Fulton, C.J. 2008. Sediment-mediated suppression of herbivory on coral reefs: Decreasing resilience to rising sea levels and climate change? Limnology and Oceanography 53, 2695-2701. Link to paper
    Media coverage: Turf wars: sand and corals don't mix
  • Fulton CJ. 2007. Swimming speed performance in coral reef fishes: field validations reveal distinct functional groups.Coral Reefs 26, 217-228. Link to paper
    Media coverage: Fast fish 'fly' through the waterHow reef fish use their fins to 'fly' underwater
  • Fulton CJ, Bellwood DR, Wainwright PC. 2005. Wave energy and swimming performance shape coral reef fish assemblages. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 272, 827-832. Link to paper
    Media coverage: Science in a flap over fish.

Technical Reports

  • Broadhurst B, Clear R, Fulton CJ, Lintermans M (2017) Enlarged Cotter Reservoir Ecological Monitoring Program: Technical Report 2017. Icon Water, Canberra.
  • Pink J, Moore A, Starrs T, Lintermans M, Fulton CJ (2011) Angry when outnumbered: Behavioural aggression inGambusia holbrooki is conditional upon temperature and relative abundance. Report to Murrary-Darling Basin Authority, Canberra.
  • Fulton CJ, Starrs D, Ruibal M (2010) Distribution, abundance and habitat-use of upland river populations of Murray River crayfish (Euastacus armatus). Report to Bulk Water Alliance and ACTEW Corp.
  • Starrs D, Fulton CJ, Starrs T (2009) Predicted passage of native and alien freshwater fish in the Cotter River, ACT using measures of swimming speed performance. Report to Future Water Program, ActewAGL.
  • Ruibal M, Fulton CJ (2009) Status of Murray River crayfish (Euastacus armatus) in the Cotter and Murrumbidgee Rivers within the Australian Capital Territory. Report to Future Water Program, ActewAGL.
  • Fulton CJ (2008) Review of swimming performance of native and alien fishes in the Cotter River: assessing migratory barriers and fishway designs. Report to Future Water Program, ActewAGL.
  • Fulton CJ, Cummin KL (2008) Swimming speed performance in the endangered Macquarie Perch: the importance of size and duration of activity. Report to Future Water Program, ActewAGL. 
  • Ruibal M, Fulton CJ (2008) A synthesis of current knowledge on the population biology and ecology of Murray River crayfish (Euastacus armatus) in the ACT. Report to Future Water Program, ActewAGL.

Educational Research

The transfer of new knowledge and understandings between scientists and the wider community is an essential component of the research process. I am currently exploring novel approaches to the teaching and learning of research communication by undergraduate scientists. One focus has been how students may use creative combinations of visuals and concise text to convey the key findings of marine science research to the general public (please see ANU Research-Led Education Fellowship project).

Undergraduate Teaching

I co-convene the ANU Marine Science major, convene third-year Marine Conservation Ecology (BIOL3116) and team teach in third-year Australian Vertebrates (BIOL3114). I also offer undergraduate research projects on aquatic ecology as an ASC (PhB program), Biology Research Project (BIOL3208), and in the ANU Summer Research Scholar program.