Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Staff Profile

Professor Nick Polunin

Professor of Marine Environmental Science


Within the Newcastle University Ecology Group, I am a marine ecologist who uses macroecological and modelling approaches to help understand what holds marine ecosystems together. This work has long had a strong conservation science goal including interactions with the social sciences. A principal focus is on coral and temperate reefs, and recent projects include reef fish-habitat relationships (Caribbean), hydrothermal vent food webs (Southern Ocean), fisheries extinctions (Philippines), climate change effects on Arctic fishes (Barents Sea) and sustainability issues in fisheries (North Sea). This work has long had a societal purpose, relating to issues of biodiversity conservation, climate change impacts, food security and sustainability. My public outreach includes editing an international environmental science journal (www.cambridge.org/core/journals/environmental-conservation), supporting the Northumberland Inshore Fishery & Conservation Authority (www.nifca.gov.uk/) and leading the International Conferences on Environmental Future (Hawaii 2018 'Humans and Island Environments' http://manoa.hawaii.edu/7ICEF/).


Areas of expertise

  • Coastal marine ecosystems
  • Conservation ecologist

ORCID: 0000-0002-1480-8794 

Google scholar: Click here.


My research focuses on pivotal attributes of marine ecosystems, notably food-webs and their structure, predator-prey effects including trophic cascades and human impacts on these such as through fishery exploitation. I have made major contributions to (i) analysing the trophic ecology of fish and fisheries beginning with work in the mid-1980s on Coral Sea and later on Mediterranean reefs (ii) exploring ecological effects of marine protected areas starting with projects in the Caribbean in the early 1990s (iii) measuring fishing pressure and climate change effects on coral reef community structure particularly since work in the Pacific and Indian Oceans from the mid-1990s and (iv) the macroecology of the NE of England, dating from our projects in Northumberland and N Yorkshire since the late 2000s.

Current active interests include:

(1) Nature of links between benthic and pelagic food-web pathways in fish communities of the temperate continental shelf (UK seas) and of coral reefs (Maldives); (2) Drivers of fishery food-web structure including that subject to sea-ice and latitudinal warming effects in the Arctic (Barents Sea) and chronic fishing pressure (Northumberland); and (3) Interactions between the benthos and fish assemblages of temperate (Northumberland) and coral reefs (Caribbean, Maldives)

Since 2008, my main funded projects have been:  

Natural Environment Research Council, Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility (2018-19) Spatial and size-related effects on pelagic dependence of coral reef predators

Natural Environment Research Council (2018-2021) Coldfish: potential benefits and risks of borealisation for fish stocks and ecosystems in a changing Arctic Ocean

Natural Environment Research Council, Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility (2017-18) Discriminating food pathways in coral reeffish using amino acid specific δ13C data

Cefas (2016-20) Analysing unnoticed large-scale changes in Northumberland’s marine ecosystems

Natural Environment Research Council (2014-2018) Multi-species models in fisheries

Natural Environment Research Council, Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility (2014-15) Providing solid amino acid specific foundations to primary production for underpinning aquatic trophodynamics

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Darwin Initiative (2012-16) Responding to fish extirpations in the global marine biodiversity epicentre

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2012-14) Understanding and addressing the impacts of threats to marine ecosystems/biodiversity in the UK overseas territories in the Caribbean

Marine Management Organisation (2011-12) A sustainable fishing plan for the Farne Deeps Nephrops fishery

Natural Environment Research Council, Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility (2010-12) Chemosynthetically-driven ecosystems South of the Polar Front

Marine Management Organisation (2010-11) Building expertise to assess MPA effects: does Whitby prohibited trawling area provide protection for finfish?

Marine & Fisheries Agency (2010-11) Methodologies for assessing spatial and habitat differences in benthic macroconsumer biodiversity

European Commission FP7 research framework (2010-14) Future of reefs in a changing environment: an ecosystem approach to managing Caribbean coral reefs in the face of climate change (FORCE)

Natural Environment Research Council (2009-12) Chemosynthetically-driven ecosystems south of the Polar Front

Natural Environment Research Council, Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility (2009-10) Nutrient fluxes through pelagic and benthic food webs in the North Sea: pelagic-benthic coupling and terrestrial uptake by large consumers at different scales

CEFAS (2008-09) C & N stable isotope analyses of bone collagen for description of fish trophodynmaics

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (2008-09) Abundances of mobile fish in small marine protected areas

Department of Food, Environment & Rural Affairs (2008) Developing indicators of MPA effectiveness: finfish diversity, size and abundance in the Yorkshire prohibited trawl areas

Department of Food, Environment & Rural Affairs (2008) Defining the Northumberland lobster fishery

Leverhulme Trust (2004-08) Impacts of coral bleaching on coral reef fish community structure