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Dr Ellie Vaughan

Research student

Ellie Vaughan

Research overview

I am a final year PhD student currently studying coral reef ecology at Lancaster Environment Centre. My research interests are focused on the responses of coral reef ecosystems to multiple local and global anthropogenic drivers over a range of biological, spatial and temporal scales, as this provides a more holistic understanding of how natural biophysical relationships and biogeochemical dynamics can be altered by external impacts. Through my undergraduate and Masters degrees at Plymouth University, and internships at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Israel, and the Zoological Society of London, I have previously studied the molecular, biochemical and physiological responses of marine invertebrates (primarily reef-building corals) to the effects of both global and local stressors. I also investigate how these responses at the individual level (measured through empirical studies) can be scaled up to gain a more mechanistic and ecological understanding of how these often synergistic drivers influence ecosystems at the population and community level. These include shifts in species interactions, community dynamics, ecosystem functioning, and biogeographic ranges.

Thesis Title

Nutrient impacts on coral reefs captured through macroalgal isotopes

Current Research

As part of my PhD research, I am investigating the impacts of nutrient enrichment from coastal runoff on tropical coral reef ecosystems, and how the spatio-temporal variability in nutrient regimes in these reefs can be quantified. To achieve this, I will be using a multidisciplinary approach by assessing the cost-effectiveness of different bioindicators for capturing nutrient regimes across different spatial scales. In addition, I will also be conducting comparative studies involving macroecology, experimental physiology and ecology, and environmental modelling to assess the direct and indirect influences of nutrient enrichment on macroalgal physiology and proliferation on reefs. By combining these methods, I hope to gain a more mechanistic understanding of how excessive nutrient loads can drive key ecosystem functions in coral reefs to a tipping point, where a phase shift from a coral-dominated to a macroalgal-dominated state occurs.

Supervised By

Professor Nick Graham (Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University)


Dr Gareth Williams (School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University)


Dr Peter Wynn (Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University) 


Professor Phil Barker (Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University 

Research Grants

Lancaster University Graduate College Travel Grant (2016) - Attendance at Reef Conservation UK Conference


Royal Society PhD Studentship (2016-2020)


Dr Margaret Manning Award, Plymouth University (2015) - Award recipient as as a female master's biology/ biomedical student seeking financial support for an activity that will help make a significant impact on proposed career. This award was used to help fund my internship in Dr Ruth Gates' lab at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology 


EU FP7 ASSEMBLE (2013) - Co-recipient of research grant with undergraduate supervisor Professor Jason Hall-Spencer (Plymouth University) to conduct dissertation research with Dr Maoz Fine at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel 


Nuffield Bursary (2010) - Travel bursary for Nuffield Bursary project at the Zoological Society of London with Professor Alex Rogers and (Dr) Michelle Taylor on the effects of bottom-trawling on deep-sea octocoral genetic diversity 


Master of Research (MRes) Marine Biology - Plymouth University, Marine Biological Association (2014-2015)


Bachelor of Science (BSc Hons) Marine Biology - Plymouth University (2011-2014)

Current Teaching

Demonstrator for laboratory and fieldwork components of undergraduate LEC modules

Public/ school outreach based on ecology and coral reef research at LEC

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