Dr Will Figueira - Deputy Director

Will Figueira

Centre for Research on Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities
Room 105, Old Geology Building, A11
University of Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales 2006

Telephone: +61 (0)2 9351 2039
Fax: +61 (0)2 9351 6713

Biography and Research Interests


Doctor of Philosophy (Marine Ecology), 2003 – Duke University, USA
Bachelors or Science (Biology), 1993 – University of California, San Diego, USA

Key Words

Population biology
Marine ecology
Coral Reefs
Computational ecology
Population connectivity

Research Interests

My general interests lie in the area of fish population ecology and my research has focused on the behavior and demographics of individual fish populations as well as the large scale connectivity between these populations. The small scale studies are typically conducted on SCUBA or snorkel and employ tools such as tagging, mapping and standard underwater census and behavioural observation techniques. These studies have been conducted in a variety of locations including the Florida Keys (USA), Lee Stocking Island (Bahamas), and One Tree Island (Australia).

My interest in the larger scale dynamics of reef fish involves understanding the mechanisms and consequences of metapopulation, and specifically source-sink, dynamics in these systems. While the spatial structure of these systems (distinct areas of occupied habitat) and the connectivity within them (larval exchange between areas) lend themselves nicely to descriptions invoking metapopulation theory, our current understanding of system dynamics is quite low. My work on this topic has run the spectrum from the highly theoretical exercise of creating conceptual and analytical models to allow for the application of metapopulation theory to marine systems in general to the much more applied topic of using metapopulation theory for citing marine reserves and creating effective, biologically interacting reserve networks. I use individually-based, stage-structured spatially realistic computer simulation models to study the impact of variations in habitat quality and network connectivity on system dynamics and specifically source-sink structure.

Current Research Themes

Tropical temperate connectivity of marine fish populations and the potential for range shifts due to global climate change
[Collaborators: David Booth, UTS]

This project studies the spatial and temporal patterns of transport and settlement of tropical vagrant fish species into subtropical regions and evaluates the potential for large scale range shifts of these species as the oceans off of SE Australia continue to warm. We are combining life history information obtained from otolith and lipid analysis with properties of transport obtained from Lagrangian biophysical dispersal modeling to better understand connectivity with upstream reefs and alterations to these patterns that may result from large-scale climate change such as ENSO and global warming. Such climate change has the potential to dramatically alter distributional patterns near the edge of the species range and in so doing can have very interesting metapopulation-level ramifications.

Post-settlement demographics of reef fishes

Newly settled reef fish typically experience a very high rate of mortality due to predation and competition. Recent work has demonstrated that the condition of newly settled fish, as expressed by their lipid concentration, can affect their susceptibility to predation in both lab and field experiments. In this research theme I use a variety of lab and field studies at locations on the Great Barrier Reef (including One Tree Island) to look at mechanism by which fish conditional state, behaviour and performance interact with environment (biological and physical) to determine post-settlement success.

Connectivity and metapopulation modeling of coastal reef habitats
[Collaborators: NSW Dept. of Environment and Climate Change, Moninya Roughan, UNSW; Claire Paris, RSMAS]

This research theme builds upon my previous work modeling source-sink population structure by applying these tools to a variety of systems. Currently I am working on modeling the source-sink structure of the Florida Keys reef system in the United States and looking at connectivity patters along the SE coast of Australia. This work is built around the same biophysical dispersal modeling mentioned above and in the case of source-sink structure, combines this with benthic habitat information.

Research Output

Figueira WF (2009) Dispersal or demography: defining sources and sinks in coral reef fish metapopulations. Ecol Model 220:1126-1137.

Figueira WF, Biro P, Booth DJ, Valenzuela VC (2009) Performance of tropical fish recruiting to temperate habitats: role of ambient temperature and implications of climate change. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 384:231-239.

Figueira WF, Booth DJ (2009) Increasing ocean temperatures allow tropical fishes to survive over winter in temperate waters. Global Change Biology in press.

Figueira WF, Lyman SJ, Crowder LB, Rilov G (2008) Small-scale demographic variability of the biocolor damselfish, Stegastes partitus , in the Florida Keys USA. Environ Biol Fish 81:297-311.

Granek EF, Madin EMP, Brown MA, Figueira WF, Cameron DS, Hogan Z, Kristianson G, De Villiers P, Williams JE, Post JR, Zahn S, Arlinghaus R (2008) Engaging recreational fishers in management and conservation: Global case studies. Conserv Biol 22:1125.

Figueira WF, Booth DJ, Gregson MA (2008) Selective mortality of a coral reef damselfish: role of predator-competitor synergisms. Oecologia 156:215-226.

Booth DJ, Figueira WF, Gregson MA, Brown L, Beretta G (2007) Occurrence of tropical fishes in temperate southeastern Australia: Role of the East Australian Current. [[i||Est Coast Shelf Sci 72:102-114.

Figueira WF, Lyman SJ (2007) Context-dependent risk tolerance of the bicolour damselfish: courtship in the presence of fish and egg predators. Env Biol Fish 74:329-336. doi:310.1016/j.anbehav.2006.1012.1010.

Rilov G, Figueira WF, Lyman SJ, Crowder LB (2007) Complex habitats may not always benefit prey: linking visual field with reef fish behavior and distribution. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 329:225-238.

Figueira WF, Crowder LB (2006) Defining patch contribution in source-sink metapopulations: the importance of including dispersal and its relevance to marine systems. Pop Ecol 48:215-224 (doi:210.1007/s10144-10006-10265-10140).

Hose GC, Murray BR, Park ML, Kelaher BP, Figueira WF (2006) A meta-analysis comparing the toxicity of sediments in the laboratory and in situ. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 25:1148-1152.

Coleman FC, Figueira WF, Ueland JS, Crowder LB (2005) Global impact of recreational fisheries - Response. Science 307:1562-1563.

Coleman FC, Figueira WF, Ueland JS, Crowder LB (2005) The recreational fisher's perspective - Response. Science 307:1561-1561.

Murray BR, Kelaher BP, Hose GC, Figueira WF, Leishman MR (2005) A meta-analysis of the interspecific relationship between seed size and plant abundance within local communities. Oikos 110:191-194.

Coleman FC, Figueira WF, Ueland JS, Crowder LB (2004) The impact of United States recreational fisheries on marine fish populations. Science 305:1958-1960.

Price PA, Thomas GR, Pardini AW, Figueira WF, Caputo JM, Williamson MK (2002) Discovery of a high molecular weight complex of calcium, phosphate, fetuin, and matrix gamma-carboxyglutamic acid protein in the serum of etidronate-treated rats. J Biol Chem 277:3926-3934.

Price PA, Figueira WF, Patel R, Williamson MK (2001) Quantitative analysis of matrix Gla protein and bone Gla protein in normal and abnormal human calcifications. J Bone Miner Res 16:S443-S443.

Crowder LB, Lyman SJ, Figueira WF, Priddy J (2000) Source-sink population dynamics and the problem of siting marine reserves. Bull Mar Sci 66:799-820.

Hu B, Trinh K, Figueira WF, Price PA (1996) Isolation and sequence of a novel human chondrocyte protein related to mammalian members of the chitinase protein family. J Biol Chem 271:19415-19420.

Book Chapters

Booth D.J and Figueira WF. 2007. Population dynamics: resistance and buffer capacity In: S.E. Jorgensen (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Ecology. Elsevier Press. London. In press - Accepted 5/10/2006.

Crowder, LB and Figueira WF. 2006. Metapopulation ecology and marine conservation. in J. P. Kritzer and P. F. Sale, editors. Marine Metapopulations. Island Press, New York. pp. 491-516.


Figueira WF, York PK, Diamond-Tissue, S (2009) A summary of recreational fishing in the US South Atlantic Region. Final report to Environmental Defense. 158.

Figueira WF (2007). Implementation strategies for a state-wide recreational fishing survey in New South Wales. Final report to NSW Fisheries. 65pp.

Figueira WF, Coleman FC and Ueland JS (2007) Comparative Harvest of United States Marine Recreational Fishing Sectors. Final Report to The Pew Charitable Trusts. 95 pp.

Coleman FC, Figueira WF, Ueland JS, and Crowder LB (2004). Marine Fisheries of the United States: tracking recreational and commercial landings since Magnuson. Final Report to The Pew Charitable Trusts. 90 pp.