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Key ecological processes


Key ecological processes in Kimberley benthic communities: recruitment, herbivory and predation

Other Details: 

Kimberley Marine Research Program: Project 1.1.2

Location: Bucaneer Archipelago
Project Leader:  Martial Depczynski, AIMS
Telephone: 6369 4025

 Final Reports

Click here to download the combined report (4.8MB)

Project Sumary




  • Identify the timing of coral and fish replenishment (recruitment of young) in the Kimberley
  • Determine the significance and impact of algal and seagrass eating species (herbivores) on the Kimberley marine ecosystem
  • Understand how these ecological processes work in different Kimberley habitats such as coral reefs, mangrove and inter-tidal areas

Proposed Methods

  • Develop suitable in-water and remote techniques for the Kimberley that explicitly answer these aims
  • Apply these techniques to a range of important Kimberley habitats in both wet and dry seasons
  • Identification of important herbivore species and the amount of grazing on seagrass and algae that is removed from the ecosystem
  • Work in collaboration/partnership with Indigenous communities in the Kimberley and exchange knowledge on these important ecosystem processes
  • Deploy temperature loggers to see if there is a relationship between replenishment of coral and fish with water temperature

Project Duration 2013-2016 during wet (Feb-Mar) and dry (Sept-Oct) seasons

Geographic Range

Cygnet Bay area (See map)


  • Better overall knowledge of where and when young coral and fish are replenished, to enable impacts to be managed (developments, tourism etc.)
  • Provide a knowledge base to allow future monitoring of coral and fish into the future – information to help understand if populations are going up or down
  • Develop effective and efficient monitoring methods that can be conducted long-term
  • Define management units (what geographical scale should management be aimed at)
  • Build capacity amongst Indigenous rangers groups to facilitate potential ongoing monitoring opportunities

Research Articles

Piggott CVH, Depczynski M, Gagliano M, Langlois TJ (2020) Remote video methods for studying juvenile fish populations in challenging environments. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology,


Depczynski M et al. Recruitment and herbivory in the southern Kimberley. 2017 WAMSI Research Conference  (audio) Presentation slides

Depczynski M (2016) Presentation to Kimberley Marine Research Station. April 2017

Vanderklift M (2015) Presentation to One Arm Point school

Vanderklift M (2016) The ecology of green turtles in Bardi Jawi Sea Country. 3rd Australian Sea Turtle Symposium, Darwin, 22-24th August 2016.

Vanderklift M (2016) Presentation to Kimberley Marine Research Station. April 2014.

Vanderklift (2017) Parks and Wildlife Lunch n Learn Series (28th February 2017) Presentation on Key Ecological Processes in Kimberley Benthic Communities - Herbivory

Regular presentations of project results to Bardi Jawi rangers during each survey by all sub-project leaders

Lunch n Learn series

(Tuesday, 28 February 2017, 12:00-1:00, Torndirrup/Nambung seminar rooms, Parks and Wildlife, Kensington)      

Understanding ecological processes in the Kimberley – recruitment, herbivory and fish population connectivity

As part of the WAMSI Kimberley Marine Research Program, supported by the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, scientists from AIMS, CSIRO, DPaW, DoF, WA Museum and Curtin University in collaboration with the Bardi-Jawi Marine Rangers have been investigating some of the critical ecological processes in the Kimberley that support and maintain the unique biodiversity and ecosystems of the Kimberley coastal waters. The Kimberley coastal waters can be a challenging place to work and scientists have needed to develop or adapt skills and techniques to better understand the ecology of the region.

1. Dr Martial Depczynski from AIMS discussed his teams research on fish recruitment and the importance of various nursery habitats in the Kimberley and how to best monitor fish replenishment in the coastal waters of the Kimberley. (presentation slides)


2. Dr James Gilmour from AIMS discussed some of these same issues as they apply to coral and investigating questions such as when do new corals settle, what are the dominant modes of reproduction in corals (brooders versus spawners) and how do patterns of replenishment relate to the intense oceanic forces found in the Kimberley region. (presentation slides)


3. Dr Mat Vanderklift from CSIRO discussed his research on the consumption of seagrasses and algae by some of the key herbivores of the Kimberley – fish and turtles. He describes his research assessing the level of herbivory by these species and how this relates to rates of production and support ecosystem health. (presentation slides)


4. Sarah Hearne from Curtin University talked about her PhD research using a new research tool – otolith microchemistry to better understand the broadscale patterns of population connectivity and habitat use in the Stripey snapper (WAMSI KMRP 1.1.3 Ecological connectivity)

Longer term goals beyond the life of the project

To develop a long term monitoring program in the Kimberley that incorporates Indigenous groups.


Northwest Australia reveals its unique marine ecosystem (WAMSI Bulletin May 2017)

School’s out on tropical fish nurseries in the Kimberley (WAMSI Bulletin August 2015)

Indigenous partnerships in marine science (Nothwest Atlas)