As this newsletter goes to press, the Steering Committee of the NERP Tropical Ecosystems Hub has just held its penultimate meeting and all of the projects not yet completed will move into their final wind-up activities over the next three months.

At the level of both Hub and project, the most important activity to be conducted in the wind-up period is the transfer of knowledge from researchers to appropriate research users. This trade of information is the hallmark of the collaborative research model and is the payoff that research users gain from their commitment to the multi-year enterprise, starting with the co-definition of the problems worthy of investment. Now those chickens are coming home to roost.

All of the projects are expected to return value but each will deliver in a unique manner co-designed with different research users. For some projects, delivery will be filling a critical knowledge gap that provides baseline or insight, or reduces uncertainty, or leads to management practice change, or influences the formation of policy. In other cases, the legacy of the research will be the transfer of a useful product such as a knowledge base or decision support system, or simply the transfer of skills that empower regional communities to include environment outcomes in their thinking about alternative futures.

The five projects reported in this newsletter provide clear examples of most of these different types of outcomes. In addition, the first news item concerns the NERP Tropical Ecosystems Hub conference, which will take place in Cairns in just a little over two months from now (5-7 November 2014). This will be our final gathering of researchers and research users sharing interests in the state of ecosystems from the Torres Strait, to the Great Barrier Reef, and the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

The Hub conference will feature the outcomes of research from all three of these systems and provide up-to-date information on the current status and trends of these three major environmental assets. The Hub conference is free to attend and open to all persons with an interest in the major bioregions of North Queensland. We hope to see you in Cairns for this event in exchange for our promise to deliver to you a rich learning landscape.




The Tropical Ecosystems Hub newsletter for June 2014 contains examples of the NERP research from six quite different projects and all geographical nodes. The common element in these examples is the connectivity between Hub researchers and research users to generate and transfer new knowledge of practical value for the protection and conservation of these major environmental assets.

From the Great Barrier Reef, Hub researchers are developing decision support tools for managers to reduce the vulnerability of coral in times of environmental change using scenarios of both acute and chronic pressures; while others work with communities to determine management priorities and actions that strike a balance between economic growth, environmental protection and community wellbeing. From the Torres Strait, a collaborative project between Hub researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Queensland combines ocean temperature and satellite data to predict environmental effects, including coral bleaching. And from the Wet Tropics, researchers examine the merits of weed containment and eradication in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. From the Water Quality node, researchers are studying the coral fossil record to determine changes to the Great Barrier Reef that have occurred prior to human settlement that can be related to changes in climate; and there is a report from a recently published paper that establishes the extent to which turbidity from flooding affects offshore habitats and productivity. We now approach the final six months of the program and it is pleasing to see project outcomes influencing considerations of policy and management in our tropical ecosystems.

Dr. Peter Doherty, AIMS

For more information, contact Dr. Peter Doherty (



Cambridge University Press


Prins, H.H.T., Gordon, I.J., eds. (2014) Invasion Biology and Ecological Theory - Insights from a Continent in Transformation. Cambridge University Press. [doi:10.1017/CBO9781139565424].


Chapter 8

Westcott, D.A., McKeown, A. Invasion Biology and Ecological Theory - Insights from a Continent in Transformation. Chapter 8 - Flying foxes and drifting continents. Cambridge University Press.[doi:10.1017/CBO9781139565424.010].


Related to Project 3.4

Coastal waters of northern Queensland are home to a variety of shark species, some of which use these waters as nursery habitat.

Scientists define shark nurseries as areas with a large number of young sharks that stay for a few months or more, and this is repeated across multiple years. These are valuable areas for shark populations so it is important to understand where they are and why they are suitable for young sharks.

NERP Tropical Ecosystems Hub Project 6.2 “Drivers of juvenile shark biodiversity and abundance in inshore ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef” is doing exactly that on the central Great Barrier Reef coast.

The project team has been undertaking quarterly surveys of five bays between Cardwell and Mackay that initial surveys showed were potential nursery areas for sharks. A survey involves four days of fishing in each bay with both lines and nets to ensure a wide range of sharks is caught.

When sharks are caught they are tagged and released to help provide data on the movement of sharks within and between nursery areas and to estimate fishing and growth rates. A range of environmental parameters is also measured to examine their role in determining the species of sharks that may use each of the bays.

To date over 1,700 sharks from 19 species have been caught in the surveys. Blacktip sharks and Australian sharpnose sharks have been the most common species. Interestingly, the Australian sharpnose sharks are a very small species and occur in the bays as adults, unlike many of the other species that are mostly caught as juveniles.

The majority of the sharks caught have been less than one metre in length, supporting the assumption that smaller younger sharks occur in coastal bays. However, some sharks greater than three metres have been caught, most of them tiger and hammerhead sharks.

Differences in the composition of the shark communities between bays have also been observed. Rockingham Bay near Cardwell for example is home to more young scalloped hammerhead sharks than any of the other bays surveys. The team continues to explore whether differences in environmental parameters or habitats within bays are the drivers of these differences.

The results of this research will play an important role in the future management of the inshore regions of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and the Queensland East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery which take sharks in the region.

Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, JCU

For more information, contact Colin Simpfendorfer at:

Proj 6.2: Drivers of juvenile shark biodiversity and abundance in inshore ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef



The Conversation

01 November 2013

The Queensland and Australian government’s draft strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area has been released today.

The strategic assessment was prompted by the 2012 UNESCO-IUCN reactive monitoring mission. The mission highlighted the possibility of adding the Great Barrier Reef to the List of World Heritage in Danger because the number and extent of port developments present a serious risk. Read more




Cairns Post

11 November 2013

A JAMES Cook University researcher is embarking on a world-first experiment to create drought-like conditions in a section of the Daintree to see how rainforests will respond to extended dry spells in the future.

Cairns-based rainforest ecologist Prof Susan Laurance and her team will build shelters under the canopy of half a hectare of the Daintree forest and attach gutters to capture and remove falling water. Read more




The Newsport Daily

07 October 2013

An environmental leap of faith has paid off for one of Australia’s rarest frogs, thanks to researchers at James Cook University in Cairns.

In early September, a team led by James Cook University doctors, Conrad Hoskin and Robert Puschendorf, performed the first successful frog translocation in Queensland’s history, giving the Armoured Mistfrog (Litoria lorica), pictured, a second chance at survival. Read more




Cairns Post

11 July 2014

TINY fish larvae on the Great Barrier Reef use their smell and hearing to find their ways home after weeks of drifting in the sea, researchers have found.

James Cook University scientists discovered the larvae used the two senses to find their way back to home reefs. Read more