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Person details


Current activities

Senior Research Scientist, Leader of AIMS Long-term Monitoring Program for coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef

Through my involvement with a large monitoring program on GBR reefs, I am interested in the status of GBR reefs and in coral reef ecology generally, especially:

  • the effects of disturbances on reef communities and processes of subsequent recovery.
  • the ecology of Acanthaster planci, the crown-of-thorns starfish, which has been the major cause of losses of living coral on the GBR in recent decades
  • "ecosystem health" particularly as applied to coral reefs
  • the effects of marine reserves


I trained as a behavioural ecologist working on reef fishes and have worked on the GBR and in the Caribbean (Panama). My research interests have broadened to processes of disturbance and recovery on reefs, particularly as applied to the GBR. After graduating I worked briefly at University of Sydney, then spent three years as a post-doc at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. From 1990 I was a post-doc at James Cook University, initially studying fish predators of Acanthaster planci, then the effects of feeding fishes around Tourist pontoons (Reef CRC). In 1995 I came to AIMS to lead the Long-term Monitoring Program.

Academic qualifications

1985: PhD Macquarie University, Sydney
1975: BA Zoology, Oxford University UK

Over 50 science and technical papers in refereed journals. The following are a selection of recent publications:

  1. Sweatman HPA, Delean S, Syms C (2011) Assessing loss of coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over two decades with implications for longer-term trends. Coral Reefs 30: 521-531
  2. Cheal AJ, MacNeil MA, Cripps E, Emslie MJ, Jonker M, Schaffelke B, Sweatman HPA (2010) Coral-macroalgal phase shifts or reef resilience: links with diversity and functional roles of herbivorous fishes on the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 29: 1005-1015
  3. McCook LJ, Ayling AM, Cappo MC, Choat JH, Evans RD, de Freitas DM, Heupel M, Hughes TP, Jones GP, Mapstone BD, Marsh H, Mills M, Molloy F, Pitcher CR, Pressey RL, Russ GR, Sutton S, Sweatman HPA, Tobin R, Wachenfeld D and Williamson DH (2010) Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef: a globally significant demonstration of the benefits of networks of marine reserves. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107: 18278-18285.
  4. Bruno JF, Sweatman HPA, Precht WF, Selig ER and Schutte VGW (2009) Assessing evidence of phase shifts from coral to macroalgal dominance on coral reefs. Ecology 90(6): 1478-1484.
  5. Wilson SK, Dolman A, Cheal AJ, Emslie MJ, Pratchett Ms and Sweatman HPA (2009) Maintenance of fish diversity on disturbed coral reefs. Coral Reefs 28: 3-14.
  6. Cheal AJ, Wilson SK, Emslie MJ, Dolman A and Sweatman HPA (2008) Responses of reef fish communities to coral declines on the Great Barrier Reef. Marine Ecology Progress Series 372: 211-223.
  7. Russ GR, Cheal AJ, Dolman A, Emslie MJ, Evans RD, Miller IR, Sweatman HPA and Williamson DH (2008) Rapid increase in fish numbers follows creation of world's largest marine reserve network. Current Biology 18: R514-R515.
  8. Sweatman HPA, Cheal AJ, Coleman GJ, Emslie MJ, Johns K, Jonker M, Miller IR and Osborne K (2008) Long-term Monitoring of the Great Barrier reef, Status Report. 8. Australian Institute of Marine Science. 369 p.
  9. Sweatman HPA (2008) No-take reserves protect coral reefs from predatory starfish. Current Biology 18: R598-R599.
  10. Wilson SK, Burgess S, Cheal AJ, Emslie MJ, Fisher R, Miller IR, Polunin N and Sweatman HPA (2008) Habitat utilisation by coral reef fish: implications for specialists vs. generalists in a changing environment. Journal of Animal Ecology 77(2): 220-228.
  11. Bruno JF, Selig ER, Casey KS, Page CM, Willis BL, Harvell CD, Sweatman HPA and Melendy AM (2007) Thermal Stress and Coral Cover as Drivers of Coral Disease Outbreaks. PLoS Biology 5(6): e124.
  12. Cheal AJ, Delean S, Sweatman HPA and Thompson AA (2007) Spatial synchrony in coral reef fish populations and the influence of climate. Ecology 88(1): 158-169.