Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas

Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas
Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas

Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas: BSc (Hons), PhD
Marine ecologist and ecosystem modeller

Research interests

I completed a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Zoology at the University of Tasmania in 2002, before moving to the UK to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford from 2003-2005. Here I started working on coral reefs, looking at coral communities and coral disease dynamics in Indonesia. I returned to Tasmania to complete a Graduate Diploma in Quantitative Marine Science and a PhD on the development of decision support tools for visualising coral reef futures at regional scales (2010). This work was conducted through Centres of Excellence in the Philippines and Mexico as part of an international coral reef targeted research program. It involved developing modelling tools for coral reef managers to test management strategies and explore potential reef futures.

II started at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) in 2011 as an ecological statistician, and am currently a project leader for ACE project R2.3 on status and trends in ecosystems. My research uses ecosystem models to simulate different future scenarios and to help determine what’s driving change in particular components of the system. These results can then inform where and how we might best coordinate and invest in further research and monitoring. 

So-called ‘end to end’ ecosystem models will integrate information from other well developed models for physical ocean characteristics and the marine foodweb. For our work in East Antarctica these include the Regional Ocean Modelling System (ROMS), which simulates changes in temperature, salinity and ocean currents, and the foodweb component of the Atlantis ecosystem model, which is used for management strategy evaluation in fisheries and ecosystems. Sea ice processes are captured using statistical approaches.

This work is part of the Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics (ICED) program, which aims to develop a coordinated circumpolar approach to understanding climate interactions in the Southern Ocean, the implications for ecosystem dynamics, the impacts on biogeochemical cycles, and the development of sustainable management procedures.

Current projects

  • Projecting ecosystem change in the Southern Ocean using end-to-end models (Chief Investigator) (#4347)
  • Assessing status and trends of marine ecosystems in the Indian Sector of the Southern Ocean (#4343)
  • Using size-based models to understand the role of mesopelagic fish and squid in Southern Ocean ecosystems (#4366)
  • Designing regular krill surveys of predator monitoring sites (#4321)
  • Assessment of habitats, productivity and food webs on the Kerguelen Axis in the Indian Sector of the Southern Ocean (#4344)

National and international collaboration/representation

  • Project leader, ACE CRC project R2.3 on Status and Trends in Ecosystems, 2014-2019
  • Member of the Australian delegation to CCAMLR, 2013 – present
  • Southern Ocean Knowledge & Information (SOKI) Wiki Editor, 2012 – present
  • Japan-Australia Collaboration in Antarctic Science
  • Tasmanian Ambassador for Compass Women in Leadership Program, 2014 – present
  • IMBER Open Science Conference joint session coordinator ‘End-to-end modelling for research and management’, Bergen, Norway, 2014

Key outcome areas

  • Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics (ICED)
  • Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS)
  • Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)
  • Southern Ocean Sentinel

Selected publications

Melbourne-Thomas, J., K. M. Meiners, CJ. Mundy, C. Schallenberg, K. L. Tattersall, and G. S. Dieckmann. In press. Algorithms to estimate Antarctic sea-ice algal biomass from under-ice irradiance
spectra at regional scales. Marine Ecology Progress Series DOI: 10.3354/meps11396.

Constable, A., J. Melbourne-Thomas, S. Corney, et al. 2014. Change in Southern Ocean ecosystems I: How changes in physical habitats directly affect marine biota. Global Change Biology 20:3004–3025.

Melbourne-Thomas, J., S. Wotherspoon, S. Corney, E. Molina-Balari, O. Marini, and A. Constable. 2013. Optimal control and system limitation in a Southern Ocean ecosystem model. Deep Sea Research II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 114:64-73.

Melbourne-Thomas, J., A. Constable, S. Wotherspoon, and B. Raymond. 2013. Testing paradigms of ecosystem change under climate warming in Antarctica. PLoS ONE 8(2): e55093.

Melbourne-Thomas, J.,S. Wotherspoon, B. Raymond, and A. Constable. 2012. Comprehensive evaluation of model uncertainty in qualitative network analyses. Ecological Monographs 82: 505-519.

Melbourne-Thomas, J., C. R. Johnson, T. Fung, R. M. Seymour, L. M. Cheìrubin, J. E. Arias- Gonzaìlez, and E. A. Fulton. 2011. Regional-scale scenario modeling for coral reefs: a decision support tool to inform management of a complex system. Ecological Applications 21:1380-1398.

Johnson, C. R., S. C. Banks, N. S. Barrett, F. Cazassus, et al. 2011. Climate change cascades: shifts in oceanography, species’ ranges and marine community dynamics in eastern Tasmania. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 400:17-32.