Dr Darren Michael Parsons

BSc & MSc (University of Auckland), PhD (North Carolina State University)

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Senior Lecturer


Darren completed a BSc and MSc at the University of Auckland where he studied the movements of snapper within the Goat Island Marine Reserve. Darren then completed a PhD at North Carolina State University where he investigated the indirect effects of recreational fishing on spiny lobster. Since 2006 Darren has been at NIWA, where he has worked on a range of fish ecology and inshore fisheries projects. In 2017 Darren was co-appointed through the University of Auckland's Joint Graduate School in Coastal and Marine Science and currently works one day a week at the University.

Research | Current

My research interests centre on fish ecology, and understanding how it is modified by human induced stressors such as fishing, land based effects and climate change. I am particularly interested in fish life-history, movement, behaviour and personality, and how fisheries select and modify these aspects within fish populations. I also have existing projects investigating (i) nursery habitat association in juvenile snapper, and (ii) the effects of ocean acidification on snapper larvae.


Potential graduate student research topics:

Incidence of microplastics in New Zealand fish

Microplastics are plastic fragments or fibres that can accumulate in marine systems. They can have detrimental effects on the physiology of marine organisms, which might cascade through marine food webs to influence ecosystem function and potentially even human health. While the problems that microplastics may cause are very topical, nothing is currently known about the incidence of microplastics in New Zealand fish. This project will assess whether wild marine fish in New Zealand contain microplastics in their guts and other tissues. Comparisons between species with different feeding modes and from locations with potentially different exposures to microplastics will also be addressed. Experiments addressing the accumulation of microplastics in different tissue types will also be incorporated.

Using morphology to understand population structure and life-history variation of New Zealand snapper

Previous research suggests that life history variation and phenotypic plasticity occur amongst snapper within the Hauraki Gulf. We now aim to investigate how snapper population structure and the potential selective forces driving morphological variation vary across New Zealand. This project will collect snapper from around New Zealand, and will conduct morphological and diet analysis on these fish.

Can fishery data provide insight about the response of fish to climate change?

Climate change has the potential to drastically effect fish populations, but assessing the potential effects of climate change in natural settings can be challenging. We will gain insight into how future climate may affect fish populations by assessing patterns in fishery data in relation to existing climatic variations. Specifically, we will assess how both (1) snapper movement (implied by commercial catch reporting data); and (2) snapper recruitment strength across multiple areas, vary from year to year under different climate cycles.

Can fish otoliths help to understand fish life history mode and how it interacts with fishing pressure?

Fish with different life history modes are likely to also have different growth rates, which can now be revealed by new methods in interpreting the otolith ring increments of individual fish. We will use these new methods to understand how the growth rate (and fine scale population structure) of snapper varies in relation to areas or habitats where we suspect individual fish to have different life history modes. Furthermore, we are also interested in how fishing pressure acts as a selective force on the prevalence of snapper with different life history modes. We can now assess this by comparing the individual growth rates of snapper from fished and unfished (via a collection of otoliths from snapper poached from marine reserves) areas.

Does predation explain nursery habitat association in juvenile snapper?

Most fish with a nursery habitat dependent juvenile stage gain a clear feeding or predation avoidance benefit by associating with habitat structure. Observations of predation on juvenile snapper have, however, been rare, and as a result predation has been overlooked as an explanation for this habitat association. We will use innovative approaches to understand the importance of predation to juvenile snapper by: assessing the response of wild snapper to predator mimics with different swimming modes, making night time observations when a different suite of predators might be present, conducting tank experiments where we can observe how snapper utilise structure in the presence of actual predators.

Using marine reserves to understand how fishing affects the behaviour and personality of snapper and lobster

This project will survey the approachability/sheltering behaviour of snapper and lobster across a gradient of exposure to fishing pressure. Other methods that could be employed include disturbance and attraction experiments, tank based quantification of animal personality and acoustic tagging.

Has marine reserve protection increased predation induced mortality of juvenile spotty?

When the Goat Island Marine Reserve was first established many baseline surveys were conducted. One of these was an investigation of the recruitment dynamics of the common reef fish, the spotty. In the more than 30 years since these surveys were conducted, protection from fishing has led to the recovery of predator populations within the reserve. This therefore represents a great opportunity to repeat the investigation of spotty recruitment dynamics as a means of understanding how marine reserves have influenced predation and ecosystem structuring.

Teaching | Current

I currently do not coordinate any courses, but contribute to BIOSCI 328 (Fisheries and Aquaculture) and other courses as requested

Postgraduate supervision

Tony Pan, MSc candidate (main supervisor Neill Herbert), "Effects of CO2 on the growth performance, respiratory physiology and visual behaviour of key coastal marine fishes"

Kirsty Goode, MSc candidate, "Development of a metabolic bio-indicator of nursery habitat quality for juvenile snapper (Chrysophrys auratus, Sparidae)"

Shannon McMahon, PhD (James Cook University, Townsville, Australia, main supervisor Philip Munday), "The effects of climate change on predatory reef fishes"

I am currently looking to supervise new graduate students. Please see my research interests for potential topics.


Areas of expertise

Fish ecology, juvenile fish and nursery habitats, snapper, lobster, behavioural ecology, animal personality, ocean acidification, climate change, land based effects, fish tagging, acoustic tags, fish movement, fishery stocks, seagrass, inshore fisheries, recreational fisheries, catch per unit effort (CPUE) 

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Parsons, D. M., Cook, D. G., Thompson, A., Ranjard, L., Zarate, E., & Dunphy, B. J. (2018). Discrimination of juvenile snapper ( Chrysophrys auratus ) growth and nutrition via metabolomic GC-MS methods. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 506, 72-81. 10.1016/j.jembe.2018.06.002
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Brendon Dunphy
  • Watson, S.-A., Allan, B. J. M., McQueen, D. E., Nicol, S., Parsons, D. M., Pether, S. M. J., ... Wilson, C. (2018). Ocean warming has a greater effect than acidification on the early life history development and swimming performance of a large circumglobal pelagic fish. Global change biology10.1111/gcb.14290
  • Parsons, D. M., MacDonald, I., Buckthought, D., & Middleton, C. (2018). Do nursery habitats provide shelter from flow for juvenile fish?. PloS one, 13 (1)10.1371/journal.pone.0186889
  • Munday, P. L., Watson, S.-A., Parsons, D. M., King, A., Barr, N. G., Mcleod, I. M., ... Pether, S. M. (2016). Effects of elevated CO₂ on early life history development of the yellowtail kingfish, Seriola lalandi, a large pelagic fish. ICES Journal of Marine Science: Journal du Conseil, 73 (3), 641-649. 10.1093/icesjms/fsv210
  • Parsons, D. M., Buckthought, D., Middleton, C., & MacKay, G. (2016). Relative abundance of snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) across habitats within an estuarine system. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 50 (3), 358-370. 10.1080/00288330.2016.1146310
  • Parsons, D. M., Morrison, M. A., Gillanders, B. M., Clements, K. D., Bury, S. J., Bian, R., & Spong, K. T. (2016). Variation in morphology and life-history strategy of an exploited sparid fish. Marine and Freshwater Research, 67 (10), 1434-1444. 10.1071/MF15056
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/32143
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Kendall Clements
  • Dunlop, K. M., Marian Scott, E., Parsons, D., & Bailey, D. M. (2015). Do agonistic behaviours bias baited remote underwater video surveys of fish?. Marine Ecology, 36 (3), 810-818. 10.1111/maec.12185
  • Tuck, I. D., Parsons, D. M., Hartill, B. W., & Chiswell, S. M. (2015). Scampi (Metanephrops challengeri) emergence patterns and catchability. ICES Journal of Marine Science: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference andWorkshop on Lobster Biology and Management, 72 (Suppl 1), i199-i210. Cancu´n, Mexico: OXFORD UNIV PRESS. 10.1093/icesjms/fsu244
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ian Tuck

Contact details

Alternative contact

Cell: 021 170 1724

Office hours

I work part time for the University and my office hours are flexible, but I usually work Fridays on main campus. Meetings can be arranged at alternative times by appointment

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
Level 3, Room 324
New Zealand

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