Professor Thomas Schlacher

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Professor Thomas Schlacher


Teaching areas

  • Marine Ecology
  • Environmental Management
  • Animal Ecology
  • Coastal Conservation
  • Biodiversity

Research areas

  • ecology of ocean beaches
  • conservation of sandy shore ecosystems
  • deep-sea biology
  • the ecology of ecological interfaces
  • trophic linkages and food web
  • environmental metrics
  • the ecology of scavengers
  • connectivity and cross-system coupling
  • seamounts and submarine canyons
  • connectivity and seascapes
  • environmental fingerprints of sewage in coastal waters

Program coordinator


Thomas's scientific interests and work spans three broad thematic areas:

1. Ecological Interfaces

Interfaces are ubiquitous in the biosphere, forming hotspots of material processing, exchanges, biodiversity, and habitat heterogeneity. These interfaces couple ecosystems through the exchange of nutrients, material and organisms. I primarily work on two types of interfaces that represent the single longest interface on the planet – sandy beaches (as boundaries between the oceans and the land), and on interfaces that are sites of important interactions between society and coastal systems: estuaries. My published work and research projects examine both the structural properties of these interfaces and the processes which make them uniquely fascinating locations for ecologists. Important functional aspects which my lab investigates are large hydrodynamic features that link estuaries with the ocean (‘plumes’), the processing of animal carcasses at the land-ocean boundary (‘scavenger ecology’), and the role of carbon exchanges in spatially-coupled food webs (‘trophic linkages’).

2. Deep-Sea Ecology

The deep sea is the single largest biome of the planet, and perhaps the one last true frontier in ocean science. I have a long-standing interest and research stream in deep-sea ecology and conservation, focusing on seamounts (undersea mountains), continental margins, and submarine canyons. Each of these habitats is characterised by under-reported habitat heterogeneity and complexity of the seascape, and harbours highly diverse animal communities. My work has challenged conventional paradigms about elevated endemism and productivity of isolated topographic features, provided spatial data as biological input for conservation planning in the deep sea, and highlights the vulnerability of deep-sea systems to fishing and mining; the mining of the deep seabed has potentially massive environmental implications in coming years, and this aspect of my research (together with broader conservation questions) will gain further momentum.

3. Anthropogenic Threats and Biological Conservation

I strive to be ethically responsible by articulating my research work into society and the broader environment to achieve benefits beyond academia. To this end, a sizeable part of my research concerns questions about the environmental effects of human activities, and the strategies that are most effective in conserving vulnerable and irreplaceable features of the natural environment. There are several themes in this line of research: i.) the development of accurate pollution indicators in estuaries and marine waters (e.g. fish health, isotopes); ii) scientifically robust assessments of the consequences that urbanisation and recreation have for coastal dunes and beaches; iii) improvements to metrics used to gauge environmental conditions and monitor the effectiveness of management interventions; iv) evaluating impacts of bottom-trawling on seafloor communities; v) developing strategies to lower conflicts between humans and wildlife; and iv) the identification of areas of special biological significance on the High Seas. These projects involve international partners (ISA – International Seabed Authority, CBD – Convention on Biological Diversity) and a sizeable network of international collaborators.


Key publications of Thomas Schlacher are also available from Google scholar and Researchgate.

Current grants

Chief Investigator(s)/Years
Project Title/Funding Body/Lead CI - Schlacher
Grant value
Schlacher TA, Gloster M, Gillies C, Game E (2016 - 2018) Bringing back Noosa's fish. Noosa Biosphere Foundation; Lead CI.* $447,000
Fry B, Connolly RM, Udy J, Maxwell J, Schlacher TA, Olds A (2017 - 2021) Developing a report card for estuarine fisheries. Australian Research Council (ARC) – Linkage; CI.* $1,000,000
O’Hara T, Finn J, Ahyong S, Bruce N, Gledhill D, King R, Przeslawski R, Samadi S, Schlacher TA, Wilson N (2017 - 2018) Ancient, remote and unknown: investigating the seamount fauna of Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories. Marine National Facility; CI. $812,085
Williams A, Thresher R, Bax N, Schlacher TA, Clark M (2017 - 2018) Can marine reserves promote recovery of deep-sea corals from trawling and mitigate climate change impacts? Marine National Facility; CI. $1,400,000
Schlacher TA (2016 - 2017) Novel conservation tools for white-breasted sea-eagles. Seaworld Research and Rescue Foundation; Lead CI. $38,622
Connolly RM, Schlacher TA (2015 - 2017) Connectivity and resilience: factors determining the resistance and recovery of aquatic systems to disturbance. Australian Research Council (ARC) - Discovery Projects (DP); CI. $335,000
Schlacher TA, Olds A, Gilby B (2015 - 2016) Linking habitat, land use and water quality to optimise fish conservation in degraded estuaries. Healthy Waterways Partnership; Lead CI. $20,000
Olds A, Schlacher TA (2015 - 2016) Conservation of fish in nearshore waters: are there contrasting results from land and sea management? USC, Faculty Grants Scheme; CI. $5,063
O’Hara T, Wilson R, Rowden A, Schlacher TA, Ahyong S, Bruce N, King R, Hubble T, Glover A, McCallum A (2015 - 2016) Sampling the abyss: latitudinal biodiversity patterns along the base of Australia’s eastern continental margin. Marine National Facility; CI. $1,600,000
Olds A, Connolly RM, Huijbers CM, Schlacher TA (2015 - 2016) A ‘sea change’ for the fishes and sharks of Australia’s beaches: urbanisation effects in the surf-zone. Seaworld Resarch and Rescue Foundation; CI. $36,600
Olds A, Schlacher TA (2015 - 2016) Conserving the fish of surf-zones: how effective are land and sea reserves? Paddy Pallin Foundation; CI. $6,960
Schlacher TA, Olds A (2015 - 2018) Ecological recovery trajectories of restored wetlands. Unity Water; CI. $100,000
Olds A, Schlacher TA (2014 - 2016) Functional attributes in island biogeography: a test using shoreline raptors in the Pacific. Collaborative Research Network (CRN); CI. $20,000
Schlacher TA, Connolly RM (2012 - 2016) Science collaboration, linkages, and outreach in marine science. Collaborative Research Network (CRN); Lead CI. $60,000
Schlacher TA, Connolly RM (2012 - 2016) Equipment grant: water science & marine ecology. Collaborative Research Network (CRN); Lead CI. $107,000
Schlacher TA (2008 - 2015) Trophic architecture of the seamount benthos. Census of Marine Life (CoML); Lead CI. $14,000

Research projects for Honours, Masters and PhD students

  • Extreme trophic subsidies: when island biogeography meets food-web ecology on remote Pacific Islands.
  • Measuring the pace of climate change effects: thermal biology meets range-edge models in ghost crabs.
  • Connectivity and resilience in ecosystems: what makes natural systems resist and recover from disturbance?
  • A global perspective on cross-boundary exchanges: inter-habitat comparisons of organic carbon processing.
  • Cane toads as invasive predators at the land-ocean interface: consequences for the transfer of organic matter.
  • Whole ecosystem effects of scavengers: some serious scaling-up of food-web experiments.
  • Assembly rules for scavenger guilds: testing fundamental processes in ecology with new models.
  • Reserves and cross-boundary fluxes: the many faces of connectivity in achieving conservation success in marine systems.
  • The ecology of surf-zone fishes on sandy beaches: bringing new technologies to a high-energy environment.
  • Putrefaction and carrion palatability: how much do scavengers care about microbiology?
  • Food-web effects of apex predators: are introduced foxes functionally equivalent to dingos on sandy beaches?
  • More to land-ocean gradients: estuaries as scavenging corridors in the coastal zone.

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