Ongoing Research

Seascapes of Ecological Energy (SEE)

My doctoral thesis looks to define a novel conceptual framework for studying animal behaviour in the marine environment. The framework is developed as a tool for researchers interested in studying marine vertebrate behaviour in the contemporary marine environment, taking a holistic and hierarchical perspective on the possible drivers of behaviour.

Adopting a first principles approach, where the potential influence of all ecological concerns start as equally likely, the framework outlines how to successively study proposed drivers of behaviour, comparing the direction and magnitude of the impact of a driver on resultant behaviour. It is our aim that this framework will enable marine ecologists to work towards more realistic predictions of marine vertebrates behaviour in an ever-evolving contemporary seascape.

In my work, I use the framework to study the behaviour of juvenile lemon sharks, in a mangrove nursery, in Bimini, Bahamas. I dabble in Bayesian statistics and employ habitat and resource selection functions to help tease apart the drivers of spatial behaviour in an early-life stage of this IUCN listed Vulnerable species.

Study System & Species

Negaprion brevirostris

I work with juvenile lemon sharks, on the remote island of Bimini, in The Bahamas. This subpopulation of sharks is natally philopatric, meaning the females give birth in the mangroves where they themselves were born. The juveniles then stay around in the nursery lagoon habitat for five years. This study system offers the opportunity for replicate sampling of the same individuals - a rare thing in a wild marine environment.

My data comes from multiple collaborators to whom I am very grateful.

Bimini, The Bahamas

Bimini is a mangrove fringed island on the Great Bahamian Bank. It's northern lagoon and southern coast are critical nursery grounds for the North Atlantic population of juvenile lemon sharks.

Bimini is comprised of two islands, a north and south island, connected by a narrow channel to the southwest. My study sites span a portion of the southern coast of South Bimini; and large areas of the northern lagoon of North Bimini, including areas known as Bonefish Hole, North Sound, and Shark Land. The habitats are defined by a mangrove fringed coast, shallow seagrass beds, sand flats, and dramatic daily tides.

Research Questions

  1. Seascapes of Ecological Energy: a novel conceptual framework for the contemporary marine environment. How can we consolidate decades of progress in terrestrial, aquatic, laboratory, and marine behavioural research, into a guide for current and future researchers in the marine environment?

  2. Are habitat selection models an accurate prediction tool for a juvenile marine vertebrate in a tidal lagoon nursery? A comparison and discussion of refined shortest path analysis and presence-absence habitat selection models.

  3. Are juvenile lemon sharks responding to the distribution of their key prey items? An updated evaluation of juvenile predators and prey interactions, integrating independent studies of teleost and elasmobranchs, using resource selection functions and acoustic telemetry.

  4. Seascapes of Fear - how do juvenile lemon sharks behaviourally respond to low and high risk regimes?

  5. Are the effects from ecological considerations like habitat, resource distribution, and a seascape of fear, multiplicative, additive or dominating? Evaluating the holistic perspective of life as a juvenile lemon shark.

  6. Following a period of perturbation, did juvenile lemon sharks switch their diet? A case study of consequences to the realised SEE, following intense coastal development for juvenile IUCN-listed Vulnerable lemon sharks.