Honorary Staff - Dr John Runcie

John Runcie Photo
Position: Honorary Research Associate
Phone: +61 2 9351 4475
Fax: N/A
Mobile Phone: +61 400 088 662
Email: john.runcie@sydney.edu.au
Location: N/A
Address: A12 - Macleay, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006 Australia
Links: Marine Algae Research Group

Career Profile

  • Honorary Research Associate, University of Sydney, 2006-
  • Environmental consultant, 2003-
  • Environmental Scientist, Australian Antarctic Division, summers 2001-02, 02-03, 05-06, 06-07
  • Marine Project Officer, Community Environment Network Inc., 2005
  • Honorary Research Associate, University of Technology, Sydney, 2003-2006
  • Research Associate, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii, 2001-02
  • PhD, University of Sydney, 2001
  • Environmental Technician, Coastal Catchments Unit, NSW EPA, 1994-1996
  • B.Sc. (Honours), University of New South Wales, 1991
  • B.Sc., University of Sydney, 1990

Areas of Interest

Marine pollution

I am interested in understanding how marine organisms survive in their environment, especially when that environment is influenced by challenging natural or anthropogenic factors such as low irradiances or pollution. Part of my research is directed to improving existing techniques (and developing new techniques) that can be used to assess the physiological state of key marine organisms. The examination of physiological attributes of representative organisms exposed to a pollutant can rapidly provide specific information that relates directly to the pollutant species. By examining organisms that are fixed in one location, I can address issues relating specifically to that location – an approach that is particularly useful when investigating pollution related issues. My focus has been on marine macroalgae and seagrasses as indicators of pollution and environmental change.

Low light physiology – deepwater and Antarctica

Benthic algae have been reported to depths of 268 m where light levels are very low. How do they survive at these depths? How much algal biomass and growth is there at depths below 30 m? How significant as providers of habitat (refugia?) and energy (fixed carbon) are these deeper algal dominated ecosystems? Deepwater benthic algae are potentially vulnerable to increasing turbidity brought about by increased runoff and other human activities. I have been examining the ecophysiology of a range of deepwater algae using technical diving (Celia Smith and Heather Spalding) and manned submersible (Karla McDermid, Fred Gurgel) techniques with support from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratories.

In terms of annual photon dose, low-latitude deep waters are similar to the polar waters, but the regularity of insolation is quite different (long bright days in summer and little to no light in winter in polar waters compared with regular day-night patterns in low latitude waters). I have been conducting several studies in East Antarctica examining the photophysiology of benthic macroalgae and microalgae (Martin Riddle, Australian Antarctic Division), and their response to environmental factors and pollutants.

Comparison between the deepwater and Antarctic systems has provided further insight and questions regarding how algae cope with variations in irradiance. For example, how have these modern physiological attributes arisen from algae that were subjected to very low irradiances for extended periods such as possibly experienced in the geological past (“snowball earth”)? How prevalent are non-obligate phototrophs that can also survive indefinitely on abiogenic energy sources? Will these be found in Lake Vostok or Europa? Interesting questions.

Stable isotopes

Stable isotopes of C and N have been widely used in environmental studies, but also have the potential to be widely misinterpreted. δ13C is useful for distinguishing the operation of different mechanisms for carbon uptake by marine algae, and has strong correlations with irradiance availability. δ15N has been used in many nutrient tracing studies, and as a means of identifying the presence of anthropogenic nitrogenous nutrients, for example in sewage effluent. However, different sewage treatment processes lead to differences in fractionation, and the generalisation that elevated 15N represents sewage pollution is always applicable. I am interested in how these isotopes can be used to better identify the flux of nitrogenous nutrients and carbon in algae, and how to best interpret the signals taking into account a thorough understanding of the environment in which the alga is growing.

Lead isotopes for tracking pollution

With Andrew Seen and Ashley Townsend I have been examining the stable isotopes of Pb in macroalgae collected near to and far from known sources of pollution, both during and after the cleanup of a tip site at Casey Station. The isotope technique has proved itself in distinguishing lead from anthropogenic or natural sources and has wide potential across a range of marine environments.

Nutrient uptake kinetics and physiology

Elevated nutrient concentrations in marine and coastal ecosystems can lead to elevated growth rates of marine algae, nuisance algal blooms and hypoxic bottom waters. The kinetics of nutrient uptake and assimilation under a wide range of environmental conditions provide the fundamental information needed to predict whether a particular species will rapidly or slowly take up available nutrients, and whether this rate of uptake will soon abate or be sustained. In addition to my thesis work examining nutrient uptake kinetics (with Tony Larkum), I am also interested in how photosynthetic processes are influenced by nutrient uptake, especially as there is an energy requirement for nutrient uptake which can measured using modern optical techniques.

Instrument design and production

In addition to these research interests, I am involved in further development of submersible fluorometers and water quality monitoring equipment. Please contact me for more details.

Research Grants & Prizes


  • Weizmann Fund, Australian Academy of Sciences, for GAP Workshop, Eilat, Israel. March-April 2008.
  • "Holistic management of coastal ecosystems: Roles of deep hermatypic coral reefs" Ken Longenecker et al., Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory. Collaboration. US$150,000. 2008-2010.
  • "CRES 2007-10: Investigating the Deep (50-100 m) Coral Reefs of Hawai'i" Richard Pyle et al. Deep Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies, NOAA. Collaboration. US$1.4M. 2007-2010.
  • "Developing water and sediment quality guidelines for Antarctica: Responses of Antarctic marine biota to contaminants". King, Chapman, Palmer, Riddle, Runcie, Stauber, Townsend, Warne. Australian Antarctic Science grant #2633. 2007-12.
  • "TRENZ: The TRophic Ecology of the antarctic Nearshore Zone: local and global constraints on patterns and processes". Stark, Bengtson Nash, Gillies, Huiskes, Iken, Johnstone, King, Middelburg, Raymond, Riddle, Runcie, Smith, Van Den Brink, Van Den Hoff. Australian Antarctic Science grant #2648. 2008-13.
  • "Photophysiology of deepwater algae" Runcie. Australian Academy of Sciences (Scientific visits to America, Canada and Mexico), for July 2006. $8,000
  • "The use of Pb isotope ratios for tracing anthropogenic Pb in benthic macroalgae near Casey Station." Australian Antarctic Science, 2005-07, logistic support and $8,131 for 2006/07.
  • "Are Antarctic macroalgae more sensitive to contaminants than lower latitude species? Development and application of novel ecotoxicological techniques" Australian Antarctic Science, 2004-2007, logistic support and $17,765.
  • "Photokinetic adaptation of sea-ice algae." Ralph, McMinn and Runcie. Australian Antarctic Science, 2005-06. $9692
  • "Research into effects of oil and dispersed oil on temperate seagrasses." Ralph, Macinnis-Ng and Runcie. Australian Maritime Safety Authority. 2003-05 $39,000
  • "Developing a method for nutrient analysis in stormwater using an algal based bioassay approach". Ralph, Smith and Runcie, Hornsby Shire Council. 2004. AU$8,000.
  • "Ecophysiology and ecology of invasive and native deep-water macroalgae in Hawaii: potential indicators of anthropogenic eutrophication." Smith, Runcie, Pence, Abbott, Spalding, Peyton. NOAA Undersea Research Program, University of Hawaii at Manoa. 2004-05, USD$164,433.
  • "The lower limit of light-harvesting: an examination of photosynthetic capacity and population structure of deep-water benthic algae using in situ active fluorescence and submersible-conducted survey techniques" McDermid, Runcie and Hodgson. NOAA Undersea Research Program, University of Hawaii at Hilo, 2004-2005, logistic support: USD $348,000.
  • "Natural variability and human induced change in Antarctic nearshore marine benthic communities". Riddle, Goldsworthy, King, Runcie, Snape and Stark. Australian Antarctic Science grant #2201.
  • "Urban runoff and coastal water quality assessment in Hawaii" Runcie and Kinzie. Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative Research Program, 2002, USD $85,949.
  • "Water quality assessment using macroalgae as indicators of eutrophication" Runcie and Kinzie. Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative Research Program, 2001, USD $88,473.


  • Kathleen Drew Baker prize (2008) for best paper in the European Journal of Phycology: "In situ photosynthetic rates of tropical marine macroalgae at their lower depth limit".

Research Output

Refereed Journals

  • Runcie, J.W., Paulo, D., Santos, R., Sharon, Y., Beer, S. & Silva, J. In press, Photosynthetic Responses of Halophila stipulacea to a Light Gradient: I – In situ Energy Partitioning of Non-photochemical Quenching. Aquatic Biology
  • Sharon, Y., Silva, J., Santos, R., Runcie, J.W. In press, Photosynthetic responses of Halophila stipulacea to a light gradient: II – acclimations following transplantations. Aquatic Biology
  • Runcie, J.W., Townsend, A.T. and Seen, A.J. In press. The application of lead isotope ratios in Antarctic the macroalga Iridaea cordata as a contaminant monitoring tool. Marine Pollution Bulletin
  • Runcie, J.W., Gurgel, C.F.D., & McDermid, KJ. 2008. In situ photosynthetic rates of tropical marine macroalgae at their lower depth limit. European Journal of Phycology 43(4): 377-388
  • Runcie, J.W. and Riddle, M.J. 2007. Assessing the toxic effects of copper on the Antarctic macroalga Desmarestia menziesii using chlorophyll fluorescence imaging in ecotoxicological tests. Toxicological and Environmental Chemistry 89(4):683-695
  • Runcie, J.W. and Riddle, M.J. 2006. Diel variability in photosynthesis of marine macroalgae in ice-covered and ice-free environments in East Antarctica. European Journal of Phycology 41(2):223-233
  • Smith, J.E. Runcie, J.W. and Smith C.M. 2005. Characterization of a large-scale ephemeral bloom of the green alga Cladophora sericea on the coral reefs of West Maui, Hawaii. Marine Ecology Progress Series 302:77-91
  • Runcie, J.W. and Durako, M.J. 2004. Among-shoot variability and leaf absorptance characteristics affect diel estimates of in situ electron transport of Posidonia australis. Aquatic Botany 80:209-220
  • Runcie, J.W. and Riddle, M.J. 2004. Metal concentrations in macroalgae from East Antarctica. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 49(11-12):1114-1119
  • Runcie, J.W., Ritchie, R.J. and Larkum, A.W.D. 2004. Phosphorus uptake, efflux and storage in phosphorus deficient and replete Ulva lactuca and Catenella nipae. Journal of Applied Phycology 16:181-194
  • Runcie, J.W. and Riddle, M.J. 2004. Measuring variability in chlorophyll-fluorescence-derived photosynthetic parameters in situ with a programmable multi-channel fluorometer. Functional Plant Biology 31(5):559-562
  • McMinn, A., Runcie, J.W. and Riddle, M. 2004. Effect of seasonal sea ice breakout on the photosynthesis of benthic diatom mats at Casey, Antarctica. Journal of Phycology. 40:62-69
  • Runcie, J.W. and Smith, J.E. 2003. Preface Special issue: nutrient dynamics in coastal ecosystems - linking physical and biological processes. Journal of Marine Systems 42:81-82
  • Runcie, J.W., Ritchie, R.J. and Larkum, A.W.D. 2003. Uptake kinetics and assimilation of inorganic nitrogen by Catenella nipae and Ulva lactuca. Aquatic Botany 76:155-174
  • Longstaff, B.J., Kildea, T., Runcie, J.W. Cheshire, A., Dennison, W.C., Hurd, C., Kana, T., Raven, J.A. and Larkum, A.W.D. 2002. An in situ study of photosynthetic oxygen exchange and electron transport rate in the marine macroalga Ulva lactuca (Chlorophyta). Photosynthesis Research 74:281-293
  • Runcie. J.W. and Larkum A.W.D. 2001. Estimating internal phosphorus pools in macroalgae using radioactive phosphorus and trichloroacetic acid extracts. Analytical Biochemistry. 297:191-192
  • Roach, A.C. and Runcie, J.W. 1998. Levels of selected chlorinated hydrocarbons in edible fish tissues from polluted areas in the Georges/Cooks Rivers and Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, Australia. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 36(5):323-244

Other Publications

  • Riddle, M. and Runcie, J. 2005. Shedding light on seaweed. Australian Antarctic Magazine. Issue 8, p5).
  • Runcie, J.W., Kinzie, R.J III. 2003. Macroalgal bioindicators of nutrient-enriched marine waters (2000-2002). In: The first four years: Hawaii coral reef initiative research program (1998-2002). Edited by Davidson, K., Hamnet, M. and C. Minato. Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii at Manoa. 72 p.


  • Runcie, J.W. Priority date 13Mar08. “Automated Shutter for Dark Acclimating Samples”. International Patent Application No. PCT/AU2009/000295