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Renato Morais

As a Branco Weiss Fellow, Dr. Renato Morais will investigate the role of the seascape in determining biomass production on tropical reefs. He will combine methods from landscape, movement and reef ecology with mechanistic models from oceanography, food web and meta-ecosystems theory in a novel integrative way. Dr. Morais’s project[nbsp]will tackle questions of global significance for both science and human food security: what exactly allows tropical reefs to harbour more biomass than the surrounding ocean, and other marine ecosystems? And what is it that makes some reefs more productive than others?



Academic Career

  • ARC Postdoctoral Research Associate carrying semi-independent research on coral reef ecosystem functions, Research Hub for Coral Reef Ecosystem Functions, James Cook University (JCU), Australia, 2020–2021
  • PhD in Marine Biology, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and College of Science and Engineer, JCU, Australia, 2016–2020
  • MSc in Ecology, Department of Ecology and Zoology, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil
  • BSc in Biology, Centre of Biological Sciences, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil

Major Awards

  • Haldane Prize, British Ecological Society, 2021
  • Howard Choat Outstanding Mentorship Award, Research Hub for Coral Reef Ecosystem Functions, 2021
  • Virginia Chadwick Award, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, 2020 and 2021
  • Fish Scientist onboard the Elysium Heart of the Coral Triangle Expedition to West Papua, Indonesia, Ocean Geographic Society, 2018
  • Lizard Island Doctoral Fellowship, Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation, 2017–2020
  • Postgraduate Research Scholarship, James Cook University, 2016–2020


Branco Weiss Fellow Since

Research Category
Ecology, Oceanography

Research Location
Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE), École Pratique des Hautes Études, Perpignan, France
ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Tropical reefs host some of the highest rates of photosynthesis and biomass production on the planet. Yet, they thrive on Earth’s nutrient-poorest oceans and occupy less than 0.1 % of the ocean floor. This remarkable productivity has supported humans for many millennia, and still provides livelihood opportunities for over 6 million reef fishers and protein for many more fish consumers. So, what makes tropical reefs, and their fisheries, so productive? Until now, attempts to crack the code of reef productivity have had limited success and faced strong trade-offs. From one side, investigations of global patterns of reef biomass captured key biodiversity patterns and human impacts, but often overlooked local variability and emphasised static proxies of production. From another side, detailed descriptions of specific pathways boosting reef productivity had a scope constrained to very small reef areas and model organisms with a minor role in biomass production (i.e., some benthic invertebrates). Reefs, like most other ecosystems, are, however, not isolated. They do interact and exchange energy and materials with other reefs and non-reef habitats peppered across the seascape. Could the spatial context of tropical reefs within connected seascapes hold the key for high biomass production in these ecosystems?
Details of Research
In his fellowship, Dr. Renato Morais will explore the prominent role of the broader seascape in shaping the productivity of tropical reefs. His research will explicitly incorporate space into resource assessments on tropical reefs, quantifying the ‘energetic footprint’ of animal biomass, links with the surrounding seascape, and determining mechanisms whereby these links are maintained. This project will advance the notion that a holistic understanding of reef productivity should contemplate interacting internal and external pathways that connect photosynthesis to biomass production. It will offer a novel ‘outward concept’ of tropical reef systems, integrating state-of-the-art methods from landscape, movement and reef ecology with mechanistic models from oceanography, food web and meta-ecosystems theory. These newly established links will hopefully pave the way to develop an integrative, predictive theory of biomass production applied to tropical reefs. Solving the ecosystem puzzle behind the production of biomass on reefs has become paramount at a time of global changes that threaten the very capacity of natural ecosystems to keep providing critical resources to humans. Ultimately, Dr. Morais’ fellowship aims to contribute fundamental, but tangible, knowledge that may help to navigate tropical fisheries through the challenges of an ever-changing world.