Marine sponges acquire nutrients by filtering and eating bacteria from the seawater, but they also at the same time harbour a remarkable diversity of bacterial symbionts that don’t get digested. ...
Room 617, D26 Building
UNSW, Kensington 2052
Research & Current Projects
My research focuses on the ecology and evolution of marine trophic interactions (i.e. who eats who in the sea), and how these predator-prey relationships can shape ecological communities and often depend on environmental conditions. I mostly work in marine communities such as seagrass meadows, algal forests and coral reefs in both tropical and temperate systems from around the world (Mediterranean Sea, Indian and Pacific oceans).
A lot of my work is centred on the interactions between marine plants and herbivores, as these are particularly intense in the sea and of great importance in modulating the health of entire marine ecosystems. For instance, high levels of fish herbivory are fundamental for the maintenance of healthy coral reefs, as these consumers remove algae that can otherwise outcompete corals. In contrast, the persistence of canopy-forming seaweeds such as kelps in temperate marine communities relies on relatively low levels of herbivory by their dominant herbivores, sea urchins. Herbivory therefore plays a major role in structuring both tropical and temperate reef communities by modulating the resilience of their respective foundation species (tropical corals and temperate seaweeds).
Current core projects:
• Herbivory and the tropicalisation of temperate marine ecosystems – Dramatic, system wide changes in ecosystems are known as phase shifts, which typically result in less diverse or less productive communities. In coastal marine systems, there are two well known phase shifts; the shift from coral to seaweed dominated systems in the tropics, and from seaweeds to urchin barrens in temperate areas. This project investigates a third, novel phase shift in coastal marine communities brought about by the intrusion of tropical herbivores into temperate algal forests.
• Seagrass genetic diversity and ecosystem function – Loss of biodiversity ranks among the major causes of ecosystem change in the 21st century, with effects rivalling those of other human impacts such as climate change, habitat loss and nutrient pollution. Communities with greater diversity generally exhibit greater productivity and recover better from disturbance when compared to less diverse communities. This projects investigates diversity at the genotypic level in an endangered seagrass (Posidonia australis) and aims to establish the relationship between genotypic diversity, phenotypic diversity and community processes such as productivity and herbivory.
• Kelp grazers and the restoration of missing underwater forests – The loss of habitat-forming macroalgae along urbanised coastlines represents a substantial loss of biodiversity worldwide. Some restoration strategies have recently been successful in the rehabilitation of temperate degraded reefs. However, a number of ecological processes such as herbivory can strongly influence the survival of algal transplants in denuded coastlines. This project aims to determine the key factors that influence susceptibility to herbivory of crayweed (Phyllospora comosa) a dominant habitat-forming macroalga that supports many economically important species such as crayfish and abalone, and that has disappeared from the Sydney metropolitan area.
Current collaborators: Dr Enric Ballesteros (CEAB-CSIC), Dr Alexandra Campbell (UNSW), Dr Symon Dworjanyn (NMSC), Dr David Feary (UTS), Dr James Guest (UNSW & NTU), Prof Gary Kendrick (UWA), Dr Ezequiel (Ziggy) Marzinelli (UNSW), A/Prof Alistair Poore (UNSW), A/Prof Elizabeth Sinclair (UWA, BGPA), Prof Peter Steinberg (UNSW), Dr Fiona Tomas (IMEDEA-CSIC), A/Prof Thomas Wernberg (UWA)
Suzanna Evans (PhD candidate) – Seagrass genetic diversity and ecosystem function (co-supervised by Associate Professor Alistair Poore, Associate Professor Elizabeth Sinclair, Professor Peter Steinberg)
Lara Ainley (PhD candidate) – Influences of climatic environment and coastal development on the decomposition of Zostera capricornii and Avicennia marina (principal supervisor: Dr Melanie Bishop, Macquarie University)
Mat Skye (Honours candidate) – What’s the role of herbivory in mediating the latitudinal and depth distribution of Ecklonia radiata? (co-supervised by Dr Alexandra Campbell, Dr Ziggy Marzinelli, and Professor Peter Steinberg)
Ruby Garthwin (Honours, 2012) Effects of warming on seagrass tolerance to herbivory (co-supervised by Associate Professor Alistair Poore)
Keryn Bain (Honours, 2012) – Using near infrared spectroscopy to quantify intra-specific variation in seagrass tissue traits (co-supervised by Associate Professor Alistair Poore)
Peter Michael (Honours, 2009) – Regional differences in the piscine drivers of macroalgal herbivory in a coral-reef marine park (co-supervised by Associate Professor Glenn Hyndes, ECU and Dr Mat Vanderklift, CSIRO)
BIOS2011 Evolutionary and Physiological Ecology
BIOS3091 Marine and Aquatic Ecology (course coordinator)
PUBLICATIONS SUBMITTED/ REVISION REQUESTED
1. Garthwin RG, Poore AG, Vergés A (June 2013; Accepted subject to revision) Seagrass tolerance to herbivory under increased ocean temperatures. Marine Pollution Bulletin
2. Vergés A, Tomas F, Cebrian E, Ballesteros E, Kizilkaya Z, Dendrinos P, Karamanlidis AA, Spiegel D, Sala E (In review) Tropical herbivorous fish induce a novel and catastrophic phase shift in a warming temperate sea.
3. Farina S, Arthur R, Pagès J, Prado P, Romero R, Vergés A, Hyndes G, Heck Jr K, Glenos S, Alcoverro T (In review) Differences in predator composition alter the direction of structure-mediated predation risk in macrophyte communities
4. Campbell AH, Marzinelli E, Vergés A, Coleman MA, Steinberg PD (In review) Towards restoration of missing underwater forests.
5. Evans S, Sinclair EA, Poore AG, Steinberg PD, Kendrick, GA, Vergés A (In review) Genetic diversity in threatened Posidonia australis seagrass meadows.
6. Marzinelli E, Campbell AH, Vergés A, Coleman BP, Coleman MA, Steinberg PD (In review) Restoring seaweeds: does the declining fucoid Phyllospora comosa support different biodiversity than other habitats?
1. Campbell AH, Vergés A, Steinberg PD (2013, Accepted June 2013) Demographic consequences of disease in a habitat-forming seaweed and impacts on interactions between natural enemies. Ecology
2. Bain K, Vergés A, Poore AG (2013, Accepted June 2013) Using near infra red reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) to quantify tissue composition in the seagrass Posidonia australis. Aquatic Botany
3. Ballesteros E, Hereu B, Sales M, Sant N, Vergés A (2013, Accepted Dec 2012) Boscos d’algues. In: Ballesteros E (ed). Atles d’Ecologia, clima i evolució. Història Natural dels Països Catalans. Enciclopèdia Catalana, Barcelona, Spain.
4. Doropoulos C, Abecasis D, Hyndes GA, Vergés A (2013, Accepted March/ 13) Herbivores strongly influence algal recruitment in both coral and algal dominated coral reef habitats. Marine Ecology Progress Series. DOI 10.3354/meps10325
5. Michael P, Hyndes GA, Vanderklift M, Vergés A (2013, Accepted Jan/ 13) Identity and behaviour of herbivorous fish influence large-scale spatial patterns of macroalgal herbivory in a coral reef. Marine Ecology Progress Series 482: 227-240
6. Vergés, A, Bennett, S, Bellwood, DR (2012) Diversity among macroalgae-consuming fishes in coral reefs: a transcontinental comparison. PLoS One. 7(9): e45543
7. Vergés A, Tomas F, Ballesteros E (2012) Interactive effects of depth and marine protection on predation and herbivory. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 450: 55-65
8. Wernberg T, Smale DA, Vergés A,Campbell A, Russell BD, Coleman MA., Ling SD, Steinberg PD, Johnson CR, Kendrick GA, Connell SD (2012). Macroalgae and Temperate Rocky Reefs. In: Poloczanska, ES, Hobday, AJ & Richardson, AJ (eds) 2012 Report Card of Marine Climate Change in Australia; Impacts and Adaptation Responses, NCCARF publication
9. Campbell AH, Vergés A, Harder T, Steinberg PD (2012). Causes and ecological consequences of a climate-mediated disease. In: Wildlife and climate change: toward robust conservation strategies for Australian fauna (eds. Lunney D & Hutchings P). Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Mosman, Australia.
10. Vergés A, Vanderklift M, Doropoulos C, Hyndes GA (2011) Spatial patterns in herbivory on a coral reef are influenced by structural complexity but not by algal traits. PLoS ONE. 6(2) e17115
11. Vergés A, Alcoverro T, Romero J (2011) Plant defences and the role of epibiosis in mediating within-plant feeding choices of seagrass consumers. Oecologia. 166(2): 381-390
12. Vergés A, Hyndes GA, Vanderklift MA (2011) Trophic effects through herbivory at Ningaloo Reef. Synthesis report for the Western Australia Marine Science Institute Node 3.2: Biodiversity assessment, ecosystem impacts of human usage and management evaluation.
13. Bennett S, Vergés A, Bellwood DR (2010) Branching coral as a macroalgal refuge in a marginal coral reef system. Coral Reefs. 29: 471-480
14. Vergés A, Alcoverro T, Ballesteros E (2009) The role of fish herbivory in structuring the vertical distribution of canopy algae (Cystoseira spp.) in the Mediterranean. Marine Ecology Progress Series (Feature Article) 375: 1-11
15. Vergés A, Paul NA, Steinberg PD (2008) Sex and life history stage alter herbivore responses to a chemically defended red alga. Ecology. 89(5): 1334–1343
16. Vergés A, Pérez M, Alcoverro T, Romero J (2008) Compensation and resistance to herbivory in seagrasses: induced responses to simulated fish consumption. Oecologia. 155 (4): 751-760
17. Martínez-Crego B, Vergés A, Alcoverro T, Romero J (2008) Selection of multiple seagrass indicators for environmental biomonitoring. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 361: 93-109
18. Vergés A, Becerro MA, Alcoverro T, Romero J (2007) Variation in multiple traits of vegetative and reproductive seagrass tissues influences plant-herbivore interactions. Oecologia. 151: 675-686
19. Vergés A, Becerro MA, Alcoverro T, Romero J (2007) Experimental evidence of chemical deterrence against multiple herbivores in the seagrass Posidonia oceanica. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 343: 107-114
20. Prado P, Alcoverro T, Martínez-Crego B, Vergés A, Pérez, M, Romero, J (2007) Macrograzers strongly influence patterns of epiphytic assemblages in seagrass meadows. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 350: 130-143