Dr Katharina Fabricius

Senior Principal Research Scientist
Coral Reef Ecology
Contact number
(+61) 7 4753 4412
(+61) 428 713 845
Contact email

I am a coral reef ecologist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). My research focuses on ecological processes in coral reefs, and how to maximise its potential to recover from acute and chronic disturbances, such as ocean acidification, poor water quality and global warming. I presently lead the AIMS Teams ‘Coral Reef Ecology and Monitoring’ and ‘Cumulative Impacts and Critical Thresholds’.

Before starting at AIMS in 1995, I worked for the 'Red Sea Marine Science Program' at the Centre for Marine Tropical Ecology (ZMT) in Bremen, Eilat and Aqaba, and as Lecturer, Research Assistant and Tutor at the Ludwig-Maximilian University.


My research focuses on the ecology and health of tropical coral reefs. I have published extensively on ocean acidification, water quality, and on the cumulative impacts of climate change and water quality on coral reefs, especially the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Presently, I lead a research project on ocean and coastal acidification. We study organism and ecosystem responses to long-term exposure to ocean acidification at natural CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea, a project that has grown into a collaboration involving scientists from 20 organisations. We have identified the main ‘losers and winners’ in coral reefs under ocean acidification, and documented that coralline algae, coral recruitment and bioerosion as key bottlenecks for future coral reefs. The findings from these CO2 seeps are now being tested along environmental gradients in the Great Barrier Reef.

I am also interested in understanding the effects of terrestrial runoff on the amount of benthic light reaching the seafloor in the GBR, and the cumulative impacts of water quality and climate change on coral reef ecosystems. These projects are co-funded by the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Programme (NESP). We have worked along environmental gradients in the Great Barrier Reef to identify how poor water quality is altering the health and ecosystem processes of coral reefs. This work, underpinned by a large body of research from other labs, has informed some of the Water Quality Guidelines for the GBR. We have also shown that water clarity is up to 50% reduced across large parts of the GBR for 6 months after floods, and documented the many ecological implications of reduced water quality, including a consolidation of the links between water quality and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish populations. 


Links to the complete publications list: Google Scholar and Research Gate.

Some recent examples:

Gouezo M, Golbuu Y, Fabricius KE, Olsudong D, Mereb G, Nestor V, Wolanski E, Harrison P, Doropoulos C (2019) Drivers of recovery and reassembly of coral reef communities. Proc Royal Soc B 286: 20182908 http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.2908

Magno-Canto MM, McKinna Lachlan IW, Robson Barbara J, Fabricius KE (2019) Model for deriving benthic irradiance in the Great Barrier Reef from MODIS satellite imagery. Optics Express 27: A1350-A1371 https://doi.org/10.1364/OE.27.0A1350

Lønborg C, de Lluch Calleja M, Fabricius KE, Smith J, Achterberg EP (2019) The Great Barrier Reef: A source of CO2 to the atmosphere. Marine Chemistry 210: 24-32

Strahl J, Rocker M, Fabricius K (2019) Contrasting responses of the coral Acropora tenuis to moderate and strong light limitation in coastal waters. Marine Environmental Research 147: 80-89

Bainbridge Z, Lewis S, Bartley R, Fabricius K, Collier C, Waterhouse J, Garzon-Garcia A, Robson B, Burton J, Wenger A, Brodie J (2018) Fine sediment and particulate organic matter: a review and case study on ridge-to-reef transport, fates, and impacts on marine ecosystems. Marine Pollution Bulletin 135: 1205-1220 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.08.002

Boyd PW, Collins S, Dupont S, Fabricius K, Gattuso J-P, Hutchins DA, Havenhand J, Riebesell U, Rintoul MS, Vichi M, Biswas H, Ciotti A, Gao K, Gehlen M, Hurd C, Kurihara H, McGraw C, Navarro J, Nilsson G, Passow U, Pörtner HO (2018) Experimental strategies to assess the biological ramifications of multiple drivers of global ocean change. Global Change Biology 24: 2239-2261 doi: 10.1111/gcb.14102

Fabricius KE, Noonan S, Albrego D, Harrington L, Kluibenschedl A, De'ath G (2017) Low recruitment due to altered settlement substrata as primary constraint for coral communities under ocean acidification. Proc Royal Soc B 284: 20171536

Fabricius KE, Logan M, Weeks S, Lewis SE, Brodie J (2016) Changes in water clarity in response to river discharges on the Great Barrier Reef continental shelf: 2002-2013. Invited Feature Article, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 173: A1-A15

Enochs IC, Manzello DP, Kolodziej G, Noonan SHC, Valentino L, Fabricius KE (2016) Enhanced macroboring and depressed calcification drive net dissolution at high-CO2 coral reefs. Proc R Soc B 283: 20161742

Fabricius KE, De'ath G, Noonan S, Uthicke S (2014) Ecological effects of ocean acidification and habitat complexity on reef-associated macroinvertebrate communities. Proc Roy Soc B 281:20132479

Fabricius KE, Cséke S, Humphrey C, De'ath G (2013) Does trophic status enhance or reduce the thermal tolerance of scleractinian corals? A review, experiment and conceptual framework. PLoS ONE 8: e054399

De'ath G, Fabricius KE, Sweatman H, Puotinen M (2012) The 27 year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. PNAS 109: 17995-17999

Fabricius KE and 9 co-authors (2011) Losers and winners in coral reefs acclimatized to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations. Nature Climate Change 1: 165-169

De'ath G, Fabricius KE (2010) Water quality as regional driver of coral biodiversity and macroalgal cover on the Great Barrier Reef. Ecological Applications 20: 840-850

Fabricius KE, Okaji K, De'ath G (2010) Three lines of evidence to link outbreaks of the crown-of thorns seastar Acanthaster planci to the release of larval food limitation. Coral Reefs 29: 593-605

De'ath G, Lough JM, Fabricius KE (2009) Declining coral calcification on the Great Barrier Reef. Science 323: 116-119

Fabricius KE, Alderslade P (2001) Soft Corals and Sea Fans: A comprehensive guide to the tropical shallow water genera of the central-west Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. AIMS, Townsville, 264 pp.