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


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 numer of cousres in Marine Science, Biological Sciences and Environmental Science

Postgraduate supervision


Jen Hilman - PhD Marine Science. Habitat connectivity (co-supervised by Carolyn Lundquist)

Victoria Jollands - PhD  Marine Science.  Governance in Fisheries (Co-supervisted by Karen Fisher)

Andrew Allison - PhD Environmental Science Modeling socio-ecological interactiosn on the coast (Co-supervised by Mark Dickson and Karen Fisher)

Stefano Schenone - PhD Marine Science. Comparative ecosystem services

Emily Douglas - PhD, University of Waikato. Denitrification in estuarine sediments (co-supervised with Conrad Pilditch UoW and Candida Savage UoO)

Luca Mora - MSc Marine Science. Ocean ecosystem services and whole domaine managment (co-supervised with Carolyn Lundquist)

Jiang Dai (Joyce) - MSc Marine Science. Role of cockles in sediment erosion potentials




Coastal ecosystem services and the functional performance of ecosystems

A PhD research project is available working on ecosystem services in coastal marine habitats. Coastal marine ecosystems support many services: habitat formation, sediment stabilisation, improving water clarity, storing carbon and processing nutrients.  The research will focus on ecosystem functions that underpin critical services and seek to develop models of how the performance of specific ecosystem functions scales to changes in ecological and environmental conditions. Based on a conceptual analysis of selected ecosystem function performance curves, it is anticipated that field studies will be designed to assess the efficacy of these models.   Work for the project may involve being based either at the University’s city campus or at Leigh Marine Laboratory.  See: ; ; ; ;



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

Academic Editor for PLoS ONE

Member of Faculty 1000 (Biology)

Areas of expertise

Simon has 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.  His 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. He has contributed to over 180 publications in the peer reviewed scientific literature and 100 consultancy reports and enjoys extensive international collaboration with colleagues in USA, Canada, Britain, Norway, Finland, Spain, Netherlands and Italy.

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Lohrer, A. M., Thrush, S. F., Hewitt, J. E., & Kraan, C. (2015). The up-scaling of ecosystem functions in a heterogeneous world. Scientific Reports, 510.1038/srep10349
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judi Hewitt
  • Thrush, S. F., Hewitt, J. E., Parkes, S., Lohrer, A. M., Pilditch, C., Woodin, S. A., ... De Juan, S. (2014). Experimenting with ecosystem interaction networks in search of threshold potentials in real-world marine ecosystems. Ecology, 95 (6), 1451-1457. 10.1890/13-1879.1
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judi Hewitt
  • Townsend, M., Thrush, S. F., Lohrer, A. M., Hewitt, J. E., Lundquist, C. J., Carbines, M., & Felsing, M. (2014). Overcoming the challenges of data scarcity in mapping marine ecosystem service potential. Ecosystem Services, 8, 44-55. 10.1016/j.ecoser.2014.02.002
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Carolyn Lundquist, Judi Hewitt
  • Snelgrove, P. V. R., Thrush, S. F., Wall, D. H., & Norkko, A. (2014). Real world biodiversity-ecosystem functioning: A seafloor perspective. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 29 (7), 398-405. 10.1016/j.tree.2014.05.002
  • Lohrer, A. M., Cummings, V. J., & Thrush, S. F. (2013). Altered Sea Ice Thickness and Permanence Affects Benthic Ecosystem Functioning in Coastal Antarctica. ECOSYSTEMS, 16 (2), 224-236. 10.1007/s10021-012-9610-7
  • Thrush, S. F., Hewitt, J. E., Lohrer, A. M., & Chiaroni, L. D. (2013). When small changes matter: the role of cross-scale interactions between habitat and ecological connectivity in recovery. ECOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS, 23 (1), 226-238.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judi Hewitt
  • Thrush, S. F., Hewitt, J. E., & Lohrer, A. M. (2012). Interaction networks in coastal soft-sediments highlight the potential for change in ecological resilience. ECOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS, 22 (4), 1213-1223.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judi Hewitt
  • Thrush, S. F., & Cummings, V. J. (2011). Massive icebergs, alteration in primary food resources and change in benthic communities at Cape Evans, Antarctica. Marine Ecology, 32 (3), 289-299. 10.1111/j.1439-0485.2011.00462.x


Contact details

Alternative contact

Extension number: 87406

Cell:  +64 27 8860066

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