I am a marine biologist in the Future Reefs Group with research interests including: the impact of climate change on coral reefs, photophysiology of marine organisms (e.g. corals and phytoplankton) and using Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry (FRRf) to measure ocean primary productivity.
My current research project is examining how ocean deoxygenation impacts coral reefs. Specifically, I aim to determine the critical oxygen at which reef-building corals experience physiological stress and how this is modified by other stressors such as ocean warming and acidification. Understanding how hypoxia thresholds vary across key coral species and other reef taxa is critical to understand how future coral reefs will respond to increasing climate change stressors and identify priority areas for conservation.
My other research focus is using active Chl-a fluorometry (e.g. FRRf) to determine how efficiently marine organisms invest absorbed light energy into fixed carbon (often termed the electron requirement for carbon fixation). I am interested in how nutrient availability regulates the phytoplankton electron requirement for carbon fixation and dynamics of the phytoplankton electron requirement for carbon fixation along the Australian coast.
Alongside my research, I manage the coral aquarium facility at the C3 Climate Change Cluster. I lead a team of volunteer aquarists to maintain and propagate a range of hard and soft corals from the Great Barrier Reef to generate biological material for research. This allows us to minimise our research "footprint" on the Great Barrier Reef itself, and provides our our students and researcher direct access to healthy corals for use in cutting-edge research.
I have ~5 years experience in tropical aquaculture, having worked for Tropical Marine Centre (UK), and several other commercial aquarium facilities in the following areas:
- Captive propagation of hard and soft corals.
- Aquaculture of high-value ornamental bivalves (Tridacnid clams).
- Animal husbandry (corals, invertebrates, fish, exotics such as sharks and rays).
- Commercial-scale captive breeding (tropical)
- Design and setting-up of aquarium systems (public display, commercial and research)
Can supervise: YES
- Ocean deoxygenation and how this impacts coral reefs.
- Using bio-optical tools (e.g. Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry, FRRf) to measure photosynthetic rates and photophysiology of marine organisms.
- Environmental control of photosynthesis and productivity of photosynthetic marine organisms (e.g. how light, temperature and nutrient availability regulate the electron requirement for carbon fixation).
- Aquaculture and captive-propagation of reef building corals, marine and freshwater fish species and bivalves such as giant clams.
- Predicting and modelling primary production from bio-optical assessments to understand atmospheric CO2 drawdown and implications for global climate.
Hughes, DJ, Crosswell, JR, Doblin, MA, Oxborough, K, Ralph, PJ, Varkey, D & Suggett, DJ 2020, 'Dynamic variability of the phytoplankton electron requirement for carbon fixation in eastern Australian waters', Journal of Marine Systems, vol. 202.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
© 2019 Elsevier B.V. Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry (FRRf) generates high-resolution measures of phytoplankton primary productivity as electron transport rates (ETRs). How ETRs scale to corresponding inorganic carbon (C) uptake rates (the so-called electron requirement for carbon fixation, Φe,C), inherently describes the extent and effectiveness with which absorbed light energy drives C-fixation. However, it remains unclear whether and how Φe,C follows predictable patterns for oceanographic datasets spanning physically dynamic, and complex, environmental gradients. We utilise a unique high-throughput approach, coupling ETRs and 14C-incubations to produce a semi-continuous dataset of Φe,C (n = 80), predominantly from surface waters, along the Australian coast (Brisbane to the Tasman Sea), including the East Australian Current (EAC). Environmental conditions along this transect could be generally grouped into cooler, more nutrient-rich waters dominated by larger size-fractionated Chl-a (>10 μm) versus warmer nutrient-poorer waters dominated by smaller size-fractionated Chl-a (<2 μm). Whilst Φe,C was higher for warmer water samples, environmental conditions alone explained <20% variance of Φe,C, and changes in predominant size-fraction(s) distributions of Chl-a (biomass) failed to explain variance of Φe,C. Instead, normalised Stern-Volmer non-photochemical quenching (NPQNSV = F0′/Fv′) was a better predictor of Φe,C, explaining ~55% of observed variability. NPQNSV is a physiological descriptor that accounts for changes in both long-term driven acclimation in non-radiative decay, and quasi-instantaneous PSII downregulation, and thus may prove a useful predictor of Φe,C across physically-dynamic regimes, provided the slope describing their relationship is predictable. We also consider recent advances in fluorescence-based corrections to evaluate the potential role of baseline fluorescence (Fb) in contributing to overestimation of Φe,C and the correlation between Φe,C...
Varkey, D, Mazard, S, Jeffries, T, Hughes, D, Seymour, J, Paulsen, IT & Ostrowski, M 2018, 'Stormwater influences phytoplankton assemblages within the diverse, but impacted Sydney Harbour estuary', PLoS ONE, vol. 13, no. 12, pp. e0209857-e0209857.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Sydney Harbour is subjected to persistent stress associated with anthropogenic activity and global climate change, but is particularly subjected to pulse stress events associated with stormwater input during episodic periods of high rainfall. Photosynthetic microbes underpin metazoan diversity within estuarine systems and are therefore important bioindicators of ecosystem health; yet how stormwater input affects their occurrence and distribution in Sydney Harbour remains poorly understood. We utilised molecular tools (16S/18S rRNA and petB genes) to examine how the phytoplankton community structure (both prokaryotes and eukaryotes) within Sydney Harbour varies between high and low rainfall periods. The relative proportion of phytoplankton sequences was more abundant during the high rainfall period, comprising mainly of diatoms, an important functional group supporting increased productivity within estuarine systems, together with cyanobacteria. Increased spatial variability in the phytoplankton community composition was observed, potentially driven by the steepened physico-chemical gradients associated with stormwater inflow. Conversely, during a low rainfall period, the proportion of planktonic photosynthetic microbes was significantly lower and the persistent phytoplankton were predominantly represented by chlorophyte and dinoflagellate sequences, with lower overall diversity. Differences in phytoplankton composition between the high and low rainfall periods were correlated with temperature, salinity, total nitrogen and silicate. These results suggest that increased frequency of high-rainfall events may change the composition, productivity and health of the estuary. Our study begins to populate the knowledge gap in the phytoplankton community structure and substantial changes associated with transient environmental perturbations, an essential step towards unravelling the dynamics of primary production in a highly urbanised estuarine ecosystem in response to cli...
Hughes, DJ, Campbell, DA, Doblin, MA, Kromkamp, JC, Lawrenz, E, Moore, CM, Oxborough, K, Prášil, O, Ralph, PJ, Alvarez, MF & Suggett, DJ 2018, 'Roadmaps and Detours: Active Chlorophyll- a Assessments of Primary Productivity Across Marine and Freshwater Systems.', Environmental science & technology, vol. 52, pp. 12039-12054.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Assessing phytoplankton productivity over space and time remains a core goal for oceanographers and limnologists. Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry (FRRf) provides a potential means to realize this goal with unprecedented resolution and scale yet has not become the "go-to" method despite high expectations. A major obstacle is difficulty converting electron transfer rates to equivalent rates of C-fixation most relevant for studies of biogeochemical C-fluxes. Such difficulty stems from methodological inconsistencies and our limited understanding of how the electron requirement for C-fixation (Φe,C) is influenced by the environment and by differences in the composition and physiology of phytoplankton assemblages. We outline a "roadmap" for limiting methodological bias and to develop a more mechanistic understanding of the ecophysiology underlying Φe,C. We 1) re-evaluate core physiological processes governing how microalgae invest photosynthetic electron transport-derived energy and reductant into stored carbon versus alternative sinks. Then, we 2) outline steps to facilitate broader uptake and exploitation of FRRf, which could transform our knowledge of aquatic primary productivity. We argue it is time to 3) revise our historic methodological focus on carbon as the currency of choice, to 4) better appreciate that electron transport fundamentally drives ecosystem biogeochemistry, modulates cell-to-cell interactions, and ultimately modifies community biomass and structure.
Hughes, DJ, Varkey, D, Doblin, MA, Ingleton, T, Mcinnes, A, Ralph, PJ, van Dongen-Vogels, V & Suggett, DJ 2018, 'Impact of nitrogen availability upon the electron requirement for carbon fixation in Australian coastal phytoplankton communities', Limnology and Oceanography, vol. 63, no. 5, pp. 1891-1910.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
© 2018 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography Nitrogen (N) availability affects phytoplankton photosynthetic performance and regulates marine primary production (MPP) across the global coast and oceans. Bio-optical tools including Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry (FRRf) are particularly well suited to examine MPP variability in coastal regions subjected to dynamic spatio-temporal fluctuations in nutrient availability. FRRf determines photosynthesis as an electron transport rate through Photosystem II (ETRPSII), requiring knowledge of an additional parameter, the electron requirement for carbon fixation (KC), to retrieve rates of CO2-fixation. KC strongly depends upon environmental conditions regulating photosynthesis, yet the importance of N-availability to this parameter has not been examined. Here, we use nutrient bioassays to isolate how N (relative to other macronutrients P, Si) regulates KC of phytoplankton communities from the Australian coast during summer, when N-availability is often highly variable. KC consistently responded to N-amendment, exhibiting up to a threefold reduction and hence an apparent increase in the efficiency with which electrons were used to drive C-fixation. However, the process driving this consistent reduction was dependent upon initial conditions. When diatoms dominated assemblages and N was undetectable (e.g., post bloom), KC decreased predominantly via a physiological adjustment of the existing community to N-amendment. Conversely, for mixed assemblages, N-addition achieved a similar reduction in KC through a change in community structure toward diatom domination. We generate new understanding and parameterization of KC that is particularly critical to advance how FRRf can be applied to examine C-uptake throughout the global ocean where nitrogen availability is highly variable and thus frequently limits primary productivity.