Fulton Group - Marine ecology and conservation

The Marine Habitat Ecology (HabEco) Lab group examines how individuals, species and communities are shaped by the physical and biological conditions within their habitats. Working with multiple study taxa (spanning macroalgae to fishes), we apply a combination of field-based observations and experimental evidence to reveal the local and global-scale processes driving patterns in marine ecosystems. We collaborate closely with relevant state and federal management agencies (often through co-supervision of student research) to ensure our research is designed and delivered in ways that improve the effectiveness of marine conservation and management. A short video about some of our research at Ningaloo reef can be seen here.



Chris Fulton

Chris Fulton
Chris completed his PhD on the ecomorphology of coral reef fishes at James Cook University (2005), followed by a post-doctoral...

Honours Student

PhD Student

Research Assistant


Selected publications

  • (full publications lists ResearchGateGoogleScholarORCID 0000-0002-1140-1999).
  • Quaas, Z., Harasti, D., Gaston, T.F., Platell, M.E., Fulton, C.J. (in press). Influence of habitat condition on shallow rocky reef fish communities around islands and headlands of a temperate marine protected area. Marine Ecology Progress Series
  • Cresswell A, Langlois TJ, Wilson SK, Claudet J, Thomson DP, Vanderklift M, Babcock RC, Stuart-Smith RD, Fulton CJ, Haywood MDE, Fisher R, Depczynski M, Westera M, Ayling AM, Fitzpatrick B, Halford AR, McLean DL, Pillans RD, Cheal AJ, Tinkler P, Edgar GJ, Renton M, Graham NAJ, Holmes TH. 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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: Tiny reef fish is surprise speedster, 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, Faster than tuna?
  • 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

  • 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.

News & events


The Fulton group welcomes new PhD student Alex Chen, who will be researching sources and pathways of macroalgae-based production in the Ningaloo reef ecosystem.
January is not normally thought of as a teaching-heavy month, but RSB members were involved in a number of outreach events early this year.
Chris Fulton has won a 2017 Thomas Davies Research Grant from the Australian Academy of Science.
Lucy won the Gilbert Whitley Award at the ASFB conference in Hobart for an outstanding talk on her Honours research on the consequences of seaweed habitat specialisation in reef fishes.



ANU Science on Location: Ningaloo Reef

ANU Science On Location: Ningaloo Reef

Spectacular Ningaloo Reef is a World Heritage Site and the world's second largest fringing coral reef. Researchers from Chris Fulton's lab are revealing how seaweed acts as a critical nursery for many of Ningaloo’s baby fish.
Chris Fulton

Chris Fulton

The Fulton Lab explores patterns of aquatic biodiversity in relation to environmental variability across space and time.

Chris Fulton - the need for weed

Ningaloo Reef might be famous for its whale sharks and stunning seascape but for ANU researchers, the real star of the show is seaweed.
ANU Honours student Isis Lim and her supervisor Dr Chris Fulton of the Research School of Biology surveying fish and seaweed habitat at Ningaloo. (Photo: Mae Noble)

The secret sanctuaries of Ningaloo reef

You might think seaweed is the annoying stuff that washes up on beaches, and gets caught in your boat motors, paddle or fishing gear. But ANU marine scientists have revealed that seaweeds are vital to the world’s second largest fringing coral reef, Ningaloo, on the west coast of Australia.

Updated:  19 November 2019/Responsible Officer:  Director RSB/Page Contact:  Webmaster RSB