Coral Reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia | Photo: Sonia Bejarano

As many ecosystems on Earth, coral reef systems are facing the pressures of the Anthropocene. Several boundaries beyond which productive and functioning coral reefs are unlikely to prosper have been transgressed. Tens of millions of livelihoods that rely heavily on coral reefs, as well as biophysical Earth system processes are at risk. These challenges call for an urgent reform of traditional scientific approaches, policies, and coral reef management strategies. A pragmatic change in how we define and achieve the sustainability of the human-reef relationship is needed. The frontiers of established scientific paradigms, research protocols, and science divulgation methods should be probed, and revolutionary approaches applied to capture and respond to rapidly evolving issues.

The Reef Systems Workgroup started to consolidate on October 16, 2017. As it develops, it will contribute to the mission of the ZMT and the Leibniz Association by conducting scientific research that confronts the most pressing threats faced by tropical coral reefs. Our research rises to the challenge of sustaining coral reef integrity, biodiversity, and functioning. We view coral reefs as complex and dynamic systems that are profoundly connected to human actions (mediated by a global economy) and climatic changes. While these systems should be managed as service-based rather than extraction-based economies, conservation efforts aimed at securing the provision of services should not lag behind in efforts to avoid species extirpations or recover decimated populations.

Research within the Reef Systems work group is problem-focused, yet solution-oriented, and of applied relevance. It contributes robust scientific knowledge in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi targets stated in the Convention on Biological Diversity. This will allow for tangible bridges to be built between scientific excellence and high-level policy processes. Within the unique richness of disciplines congregated at the ZMT, the Reef Systems Workgroup forms productive research alliances to understand the intricate reef-human-climate links through a transdisciplinary lens. Our workgroup undertakes observational and experimental studies on tropical coral reefs, but also engages in the analysis of existing large datasets, and modelling approaches. We place a strong emphasis in making coral reef scientific knowledge reachable to the wide public.


Thematic focus of the working group  

Research themes within the Reef Systems workgroup include:  

  1. The impacts of major environmental and anthropogenic pressures on reef organisms, species assemblages, ecosystem functions, and fluxes between reefs and adjacent ecosystems.
  2. The influence of species’ morphology, behaviour, and life history on their ecosystem role and vulnerability to different stressors.
  3. Spatial and temporal patterns of coral reef vulnerability, resilience, and adaptability, and their drivers.
  4. Effectiveness of different management instruments in preserving coral reef biodiversity and function, as well as ecosystem services and human wellbeing.
  5. Rates of change and large scale spatial patterns of different facets of biodiversity of coral reefs.
  6. Human-reef system interactions that strengthen or weaken the sustainability of socioecological systems.

Joining the workgroup Reef Systems

This group is in its initial consolidation phase, and currently has no PhD students or postdocs.

If you are interested in becoming involved as a Master’s student, applying for a PhD position that can be funded through a scholarship, or engaging in a post-doctoral project funded through a fellowship, and your research interests align with the thematic focus of the group, contact the workgroup leader Sonia Bejarano (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Also, stay tuned for future announcements of fully-funded positions, which are expected to become available within the coming year.