Professor Simon Francis Thrush

BSc (Hons) from the University of Otago, New Zealand and a PhD from the University of East Anglia, England.

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Head of Inst.of Marine Science

Research | Current

My current research interests focus on the ecology of coastal ecosystems, how they respond to change and how we value the services they provide; these are important topics as we try and move marine resource management into a more ecosystem-based framework. 

I am interested in the positive potential we have to actively restore degraded coastal ecosystems by generating the ecological knowledge needed for successful restoration, identifying the ecosystem benefits this will provide and in sustaining engagement of society.

I am working to understand how marine biodiversity links the way ecosystems function and in turn how this translates to the ecosystem services we value. 

My interest in ecosystem dynamics has led me to think about tipping points and particularly the huge gap between theoretical and empirical research. Rapid changes in ecosystems are happening around the world, but we are still in the process of learning how to assess the risk of such changes before they happen. 

All of my ecological interests are linked to a growing interest in the interactions between ecosystems and society.  My interest here is in try to engage in identifying effective processes for change and helping society make informed choices about how we restore, conserve and use marine ecosystems.

I collaborate extensively in my research with colleagues from universities, NIWA, and resource management and conservation agencies in NZ as well as colleagues around the world.


My current interests build on my background in:

  • Ecology of marine soft-bottom communities, particularly in estuarine and coastal habitats.
  • Ecosystem function and scale dependent processes in heterogeneous environments.
  • Influence of disturbance events on populations and communities and the consequent recovery processes. 
  • Spatial and temporal variation in populations and communities.
  • Ecological impact assessment, particularly of diffuse source and cumulative effects.
  • Design and implementation of ecological monitoring programmes.
  • Environmental effects of commercial fishing.
  • Organism-sediment interactions.
  • Organism-hydrodynamic interactions.
  • Resilience and feedback processes in benthic ecosystems.
  • Marine ecosystem services
  • High Antarctic coastal ecosystems
  • Ecological knowledge and its role in framing decision making processes
  • Socio-ecological systems

Teaching | Current

ENV 702 Applied Estuarine Ecology; this new course is co-taught with Conrad Pilditch (University of Waikato) and Candida Savage (University of Otago) and involves interaction of students from the three universities.

I also contribute to a number of courses in Marine Science, Biological Sciences and Environmental Science.

Postgraduate supervision


Victoria Jollands - PhD Marine Science.  Governance in Fisheries (co-supervised by Karen Fisher)

Andrew Allison - PhD Environmental Science. Modelling socio-ecological interactions on the coast (co-supervised by Mark Dickson and Karen Fisher)

Stefano Schenone - PhD Marine Science. Comparative ecosystem services

Moyang Li – PhD Marine Science. Seagrass resilience (co-supervised by Alwyn Rees and Carolyn Lundquist)

Amanda Vieillard – PhD Marine Science. Variation in denitrification rates in marine sediments

Ewa Siwicka – PhD Marine Science. Multifunctionality and ecosystem services in the benthic ecosystems of New Zealand

Zoe Qu – PhD Marine Science. Blue economy (co-supervised by Nick Lewis)

Mihailo Azhar – PhD Computer Science. Advancing technology to map marine sediments. (co-supervised by Patrice Delmas)



Ecosystem function in coastal soft-sediment habitats and the implications of climate change.

A funded PhD research project is available working on determining how ecosystem function could change associated with climate impacts in coastal marine habitats. The research will focus on ecosystem functions that underpin critical services and seeks to develop models of how the performance of specific ecosystem functions could be affected by climate change. Climate change is expected to strongly impact coastal and estuarine ecosystems; effects might include elevated temperature, flat desiccation, increased storm frequency, sea level rise and ocean acidification.  It is anticipated that the research will start with developing a conceptual analysis of selected ecosystem function performance curves and an analysis of how selected climate change stressors might influence functional performance.  It is anticipated that field and / or laboratory studies will be designed to assess the efficacy of these models. 

This project will be under the supervision of Prof Simon Thrush, Institute of Marine Science, The University of Auckland, New Zealand. Work for the project may involve being based either at the University’s city campus or at Leigh Marine Laboratory.

To apply for this position potential candidates need to send a letter of application, an outline of their research proposal (1 page max) and CV to Jaime Rowntree

Background information on the Institute of Marine Science and life at The University of Auckland can be found at:




Cumulative impacts and the resilience of coastal ecosystems


A PhD research project is available working on the potential for thresholds in estuarine and coastal soft-sediment ecosystems. The research will involve a mix of data analysis investigating non-linear change in spatial and time-series data and changes in ecosystem interaction networks. The research will also invovle field experiments that attempt to investigate the response of ecological interaction networks to cumulative stressors.  A PhD scholarship is available as part of the Tipping Points project in the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.  This will provide an opportuntiy for interaction with staff and students from Waikato, Canterbury and Otago Universities, NIWA and the Cawthron Institute.  To enrole for a PhD at University of Auckland  See: ; ; ; ;


Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand

New Zealand Marine Sciences Life Time Achievement Award

EU-Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship

Erasmus Mundas Scholarship in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation

Walter and Andree de Nottbeck Foundation Senior Research Fellow for 2013, Tvarminne Zoological Station, University of Helsinki, Finland


Director Institute of Marine Science

Director George Mason Centre for the Environment

Member of Faculty 1000 (Biology)

Areas of expertise

I have over 25 years of experience in the development and implementation of strategic ecological research to influence resource management and improve societal valuation of marine ecosystems.  My research interests include coastal and estuarine marine ecology; the influence of disturbance events on populations and communities and their implications for recovery and resilience; ecological impact assessment, particularly of diffuse source and/or broad-scale effects; the design and implementation of ecological monitoring programmes; the environmental effects of fishing; organism-sediment interactions; organism-hydrodynamic interactions; functional biodiversity and biocomplexity. I have contributed to over 180 publications in the peer reviewed scientific literature and 100 consultancy reports and enjoys extensive international collaboration with colleagues in the USA, Canada, Britain, Norway, Finland, Spain, Netherlands and Italy.

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Dayton, P. K., Jarrell, S. C., Kim, S., Ed Parnell, P., Thrush, S. F., Hammerstrom, K., & Leichter, J. J. (2019). Benthic responses to an Antarctic regime shift: food particle size and recruitment biology. Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America, 29 (1)10.1002/eap.1823
  • O'Meara T, Gibbs, E., & Thrush, S. F. (2018). Rapid organic matter assay of organic matter degradation across depth gradients within marine sediments. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 9 (2), 245-253. 10.1111/2041-210X.12894
  • Snelgrove, P. V. R., Soetaert, K., Solan, M., Thrush, S., Wei, C.-L., Danovaro, R., ... Norkko, A. (2018). Global Carbon Cycling on a Heterogeneous Seafloor. Trends in ecology & evolution, 33 (2), 96-105. 10.1016/j.tree.2017.11.004
  • Douglas, E. J., Pilditch, C. A., Kraan, C., Schipper, L. A., Lohrer, A. M., & Thrush, S. F. (2017). Macrofaunal Functional Diversity Provides Resilience to Nutrient Enrichment in Coastal Sediments. Ecosystems, 20 (7), 1324-1336. 10.1007/s10021-017-0113-4
  • O'Meara TA, Hillman, J. R., & Thrush, S. F. (2017). Rising tides, cumulative impacts and cascading changes to estuarine ecosystem functions. Scientific reports, 7 (1)10.1038/s41598-017-11058-7
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Jenny Hillman
  • Slooten, E., Simmons, G., Dawson, S. M., Bremner, G., Thrush, S. F., Whittaker, H., ... Clarke, P. J. (2017). Evidence of bias in assessment of fisheries management impacts. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114 (25), E4901-E4902. 10.1073/pnas.1706544114
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Nigel Haworth
  • Thrush, S. F., Hewitt, J. E., Kraan, C., Lohrer, A. M., Pilditch, C. A., & Douglas, E. (2017). Changes in the location of biodiversity– ecosystem function hot spots across the seafloor landscape with increasing sediment nutrient loading. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284 (1852)10.1098/rspb.2016.2861
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judi Hewitt
  • Hewitt, J. E., Thrush, S. F., & Ellingsen, K. E. (2016). The role of time and species identities in spatial patterns of species richness and conservation. Conservation Biology, 30 (5), 1080-1088. 10.1111/cobi.12716
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judi Hewitt


Contact details

Alternative contact

Extension number: 87406

Cell:  +64 27 8860066

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
Level 3, Room 313
New Zealand

Web links