Dr Katherine Ann Dafforn
Field of research: Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)
I am a marine ecologist and science communicator working at the University of New South Wales. I work with the Subtidal Ecology and Ecotoxicology Lab in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and am also a member of the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre. You will find me working in my office or lab at UNSW or from the labs and aquarium at the Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences, where I am involved in the Sydney Harbour Research Program. My...
I am a marine ecologist and science communicator working at the University of New South Wales. I work with the Subtidal Ecology and Ecotoxicology Lab in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and am also a member of the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre. You will find me working in my office or lab at UNSW or from the labs and aquarium at the Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences, where I am involved in the Sydney Harbour Research Program. My research focuses primarily on human impacts in the marine environment.
- PhD in Marine Ecology (University of NSW, 2010)
- BSc Hons in Marine Biology (University of NSW, 2005)
My Research in Detail
I currently supervise five postgraduate students and three honours students, working on projects ranging from
- the effects of stormwater contaminants on ecosystem structure and function,
- the design of marine artificial structures for ecosystem service provision, and
- the distribution and ecological effects of marine debris in Sydney Harbour.
Stormwater and Ecosystem Services
Urban waterways are modified and contaminated at levels that cause concern to governments, environmental managers and the general public. Identifying the ecological consequences of contamination is key to managing and restoring these important systems. This project uses cutting edge molecular approaches in combination with conventional biomonitoring to establish the direct and indirect effects of storm water constituents on ecosystem structure and function. Findings will help prioritise management actions that protect biodiversity and human uses of these systems.
Ecological Engineering of Artificial Structures
I use ecological principles to inform the design of marine artificial structures. Underwater cities have long been the subject of science fiction novels but the urban sprawl of artificial structures from terrestrial to marine environments is fast becoming a reality. Marine urban development is accelerating as a result of the expansion of coastal cities and human adaptations to threats such as storm surge and sea level rise. While there is a substantial history of green engineering on land, the practice of combining ecological principles with the planning, design and operation of urban infrastructure in the sea is surprisingly rare. This project will provide practical design solutions to mitigate the ecological impacts of artificial structures and provide essential ecosystem services such as pollution reduction.
Marine Debris in Sydney Harbour
Marine debris is now ubiquitous in estuary and coastal ecosystems. Debris can include small items such as plastic bags and household rubbish up to fishing debris and abandoned vehicles or vessels. Plastic debris is common and has come under scrutiny because of well-documented impacts to marine organisms from entanglement and ingestion. This project aims to investigate the spatial distribution of macro and microplastics in Sydney Harbour. Novel techniques will be investigated for the extraction and quantification of microplastics in sediments and the fate of macroplastics from the water column to the sediments will be investigated.
Novel Biomonitoring to assess Estuarine Health
Estuaries are the most impacted of all marine habitats, and more than half of Australian estuaries have been modified by human activities. To distinguish the effects of natural stressors from anthropogenic disturbance requires the implementation of sensitive sampling programs. This project investigates novel biomonitoring techniques to investigate anthropogenic impacts over large spatial scales. Some examples include cellular biomarkers and sequencing approaches to compliment the more traditional chemical monitoring and morphological assessments of sediment macrofauna.
Pathway to Invasion
Invasions of exotic species are a significant threat to native ecosystems, and have been shown to reduce biodiversity through predation, competition for resources and habitat alteration. Past research in marine systems has considered the transport of exotic species to new regions, but few studies have identified the factors that allow exotic species to establish and subsequently invade natural communities. My research examines how these species are able to establish in new areas and invade natural reefs.
Current Student Projects (PhD and Honours)
Aria Lee. Reproductive biology of the invasive European fan worm.
Simone Birrer. Impact of stormwater inputs on sediment microbial community structure and function.
Vivian Sim. Microplastics in Sydney Harbour.
James Lavender. Latitudinal diversity gradients.
Melanie Sun. Marine microbial ecology of contaminated environments.
Past Student Projects (PhD)
Katelyn Edge. Efficacy of cellular biomarkers in marine filter feeding organisms for detecting effects of anthropogenic pollution.
TEACHING & OUTREACH
Courses I teach
Professional affiliations and service positions
I am Deputy Director of the Subtidal Ecology and Ecotoxicology Lab at UNSW
I am a Councillor in the Australian Marine Science Association National Council
I am associate editor of a new international journal called Management of Biological Invasions
I am review editor of a new international open-access journal called Frontiers in Marine Ecosystem Ecology
I am the Book Review Editor for the Australian Marine Science Association Bulletin
AWARDS & ACHIEVEMENTS
2014 E&ERC ECR Supervisor Award
2008 John Halliday Student Conservation Award
2005 University Medal