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Current Postgraduate Research Students

Sally Keith supervises 2 postgraduate research students. If these students have produced research profiles, these are listed below:

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Dr Sally Keith

Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology

Sally Keith

LEC Building



Research overview

Using coral reefs as a model system, my team aims to:

(1) figure out if, when, how and why animal behaviour can scale up to influence the diversity ​and distribution of life on Earth,
(2) identify and explain global geographical patterns in animal behaviour,
(3) capture the impact of environmental change on (1)&(2), predict ecological vulnerability into the future, and offer solutions to increase ecosystem resilience.

To achieve these aims, we combine purpose-built fieldwork with a macroecological approach, conducting behavioural research in multiple locations across the world. This broad geographic coverage allows us to identify generalisable "rules" for how animals behave and understand how behaviour is affected by an animal's biotic and abiotic environment in the real-world.

We are part of the wider LEC-REEFS research group.


For further information see my research website HERE


Current Research

1. Testing fundamental behavioural theory

Tests of theory underlying animal behaviour are often confined to the laboratory or conducted in the field at a single geographical location. Lab-based approaches allow for the resolution of clear mechanistic links but are constrained in their extrapolation to real-world systems where behaviour operates under complex abiotic and biotic environmental conditions. Field studies in single locations allow deep understanding, yet it is difficult to know if their conclusions are generalisable across broad spatial extents or specific to that location. We aim to complement these methods using a macroecological lens to reveal if, when and how behavioural theory holds regardless of differences in location, environmental conditions and biogeographic history.

Keith, S.A., Baird, A.H., Hobbs, J-P.A., Woolsey, E.S., Hoey, A.S., Fadli, N. & Sanders, N. (2018) Synchronous behavioural shifts in reef fishes linked to mass coral bleaching. Nature Climate Change 8:986-991


2. Explore the effects of rapid environmental change on animal behaviour

Behavioural flexibility can help animals buffer harmful effects of environmental change in the short-term but the longer-term implications of these changes are poorly understood. Our research suggests that rapid environmental change can erode established "rules of engagement" amongst species, potentially leading to a new world order in species dominance within the community.

Gunn, R.L., Hartley, I.R., Algar, A.C., Niemela, P.T. & Keith, S.A. (2021) Understanding behavioural responses to human-induced rapid environmental change: a meta-analysis. Oikos 4:e08366

3. Understand implications of behavioural adjustments to environmental change across ecological scales

Revealing the emergent properties of individual behaviour at higher ecological scales is hard! We are trying to develop methods to achieve this by combining empirical data around large-scale natural experiments with individual-based models. For example, PhD student Cat Sheppard is figuring out how overfishing affects damselfish abundance, and in turn alters damselfish aggression with knock-on effects for space use of  herbivores, which are important for coral reef resilience, on the reef.

Early, R. & Keith, S.A. (2019) Geographically variable biotic interactions and implications for species ranges. Global Ecology & Biogeography 28(1):42-53


4. Explain geographical patterns in animal behaviour

Many processes that influence the distribution and abundance of a species occur at early life history stages, such as natal dispersal and density-dependent recruitment. These processes might be particularly important in the marine realm because many habitat-forming species (e.g., corals, macroalgae) do not move as adults. My research consistently identifies dispersal and establishment of propagules as key processes underlying geographic distributions in both temperate and tropical ecosystems.

Keith, S.A., Maynard, J.A., Edwards, A.J., Guest, J.R., Bauman, A.G., van Hooidonk, R., Heron, S.F., Berumen, M., Bouwmeester, J., Piromvaragorn, S., Rahbek, C., & Baird, A.H. (2016) Coral mass spawning predicted by rapid seasonal rise in ocean temperature. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283(1830):20160011

Current Teaching

LEC.101 Global Environmental Challenges; LEC.144 Global Change Biology; LEC.248 Vertebrate Biology; LEC.351 Coral Reef Ecology

Professional Role

Assistant Undergraduate Admissions Tutor for Ecology & Conservation Degree Programmes

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