Dr Alexandra Grutter

Honorary Senior Lecturer

School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Science
a.grutter@uq.edu.au
+61 7 336 57386

Overview

My research interests are in coral reef ecology and marine parasitology.

I also incorporate other fields in my research including evolutionary biology, molecular biology, parasitology, and animal behaviour. I use field observations to generate hypotheses which are tested using field and laboratory experiments.

Currently, I have research programmes at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef and on campus.

Specific projects include:

Cleaning symbiosis as a model system for developing and testing models of non-kin cooperation in multispecies mutualisms

The ecological significance of cleaning behaviour in reef fishes

The direct and indirect effects of cleaner fish on the coral reef community

Interactions between larval coral reef fish and parasites

The effects of parasites on fish physiology

The taxonomy of gnathiid isopods and their identification using DNA

The role of colour and pattern in communication among animals

The molecular and colour pattern biogeography of cleaner fish

Sustainable amateur marine aquaria

Research Interests

  • Coral Reef Ecology Lab
    My research interests are in coral reef ecology and marine parasitology. I also incorporate other fields in my research including evolutionary biology, molecular biology, parasitology, and animal behaviour. I use field observations to generate hypotheses which are tested using field and laboratory experiments. Currently, I have research programmes at Heron Island and Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef and on campus. Specific projects include: Cleaning symbiosis as a model system for developing and testing models of non-kin cooperation in multispecies mutualisms The ecological significance of cleaning behaviour in reef fishes The direct and indirect effects of cleaner fish on the coral reef community Interactions between larval coral reef fish and parasites The effects of parasites on fish physiology The taxonomy of gnathiid isopods and their identification using DNA The role of colour and pattern in communication among animals The molecular and colour pattern biogeography of cleaner fish Sustainable amateur marine aquaria

Research Impacts

Expected Outcomes of latest project funded by the ARC "What happens to reefs without cleaner fish"

1.National benefits. This project is highly multidisciplinary, covering marine ecology, coral reef biology,physiology, behavioural ecology, and parasitology - all areas critical to conservation and preservation of environmental biodiversity. Our study will reveal some of the key mechanisms involved in maintaining local fish diversity. Coral reefs are an Australian icon, providing the nation with an international tourism profile that is largely dependent upon this economically and culturally valuable resource. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for this diversity is critical to maintaining it and the industries dependent upon the reefs. Social benefits include mentoring the next generation of researchers, as our research regularly attracts international researchers, early career researchers, and high-quality PhD students - all of which will be involved in this study. Indeed, the 28 postgraduate students Grutter has supervised are all employed in science-related areas.

2. National Research Priorities. By better understanding how cleaning interactions affect coral reef fish health, and the subsequent consequences to the rest of the community, this project will contribute to one of the associated Priority Goals, “Sustainable use of Australia's biodiversity”. Australia is losing species, including marine ones, at an alarming rate, and coral reefs are increasingly threatened by climate change. This research provides insight into how single key species can benefit a multitude of marine organisms, therefore improving our understanding of how these ecosystems can best be protected for future generations.

3. Research outcomes.

(a) Insight into how the behavioural interaction of fish cleaning by a relatively low number of small-sized cleaner fish has profound consequences to client individuals.

(b) Determination of the physiological pathways that cause the positive effects of cleaning interactions on client fish health, and insight into coral reef fish immunology.

(e) Information on how parasites can have such a large effect on the population and community ecology of reef-fish, and hence, ultimately on local reef communities.

(d) Potential mechanisms proposed for the above changes are effects on fish behaviour, movement, habitat choice, mortality, growth, physiology, and recruitment, but these have never been tested until now.

(e) While the scale of this study will only measure local effects, some effects may extend further. For example, the effect on fish female size, and hence the number of propagules produced (Green 2008), might increase dispersal to other areas. A larger size, for example as seen in P. moluccensis, should thus result in an increased reproductive output of individuals on reefs with cleaner fish. Many studies suggest that greater fish size and subsequent reproductive output affects fish population recruitment (Birkeland & Dayton 2005), with consequences for managing and designing marine parks and commercial fishery stocks.

(f) Many cleaner species are removed from reefs for the aquarium trade, and L. dimidiatus is one of the top ten most exported fish to the US and the EU (Wabnitz et al. 2003). Alarmingly, in Sri Lanka alone, around 20,000 have been removed per year! Given that the removal of 1-4 adult individuals per reef for 8 years had a significant effect on the growth and size of an infrequently-cleaned species, the potential ecological consequences of large-scale removals of L. dimidiatus are staggering. Reef managers will need to better understand the repercussions of their removal, including potential reduced fecundity from a reduction in fish growth, reduced client fish diversity (Bshary 2003, Grutter et al. 2003) and other potential indirect effects on the reef community due to changes in the fish assemblage.

Qualifications

  • BA, University of California
  • PhD, James Cook University

Publications

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Grants

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Publications

Featured Publications

Book Chapter

  • Grutter, L. and Irving, A. D. (2007). Positive interactions in marine communications. In Connell, S. D. and Gillanders, B. M. (Ed.), Marine Ecology (pp. 110-137) Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  • Grutter, Alexandra S. (2005). Cleaning mutualism in the sea. In Marine parasitology (pp. 264-278) Collingwood, VIC, Australia: CSIRO.

  • Losey, G. S., Grutter, A., Rosenquist, G., Mahon, J. L. and Zamzow, J. (1999). Cleaning symbiosis: A review. In V.C. Almada, R.F. Oliveira and E.J. Goncalves (Ed.), Behaviour and Conservation of Littoral Fishes (pp. 379-395) Lisboa, Portugal: ISPA.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

  • Farquharson, C., Smit, N. J., Grutter, A. S. and Davies, A. J. (2009). A new Gnathia sp. (Crustacea: Isopoda: Gnathiidae) from Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. In: M. Penrith, Tydskrif van die Suid-Afrikaanse Veterinêre Vereniging [Journal of the South African Veterinary Association]. Proceedings of: 37th Annual Congress of the Parasitological Society of Southern Africa (PARSA). 37th Annual Congress of the Parasitological Society of Southern Africa: Parasites in a changing environment, Pretoria, South Africa, (136-137). 1-3 October 2008.

  • Jones, C., Grutter, A. and Cribb, T. H. (2003). Cleaner fish become hosts: a novel form of parasite transmission. In: John N. A. Hooper and Narelle Hall and Bernard M. Degnan, Marine Biocomplexity:. The 2003 Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, (98-98). 9 - 11 July, 2003.

  • Grutter, A. and Bshary, R. (2003). Cleaner fish prefer client mucus: support for partner control mechanisms in cleaning interactions. In: J. N. A. Hooper and N. Hall and B. M. Degnan, Proceedings of the Annual Conference on the Australian Marine Sciences Association. Marine Biocomplexity: The 2003 Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, (83-83). 9 - 11 July 2003.

  • Becker, J. H. and Grutter, A. (2003). Cleaner shrimp do clean. In: J. N. A. Hooper and N. Hall and B. M. Degnan, Proceedings of the Annual Conference on the Australian Marine Sciences Association. Marine Biocomplexity: The 2003 Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, (52-52). 9 - 11 July 2003.

  • McCracken, P. D., Tibbetts, I. R. and Grutter, A. (2003). Direct effects of crab grazing on algal community structure: implications for the health of hard corals?. In: Understanding and Protecting Coral Reefs. Australian Coral Reef Society 80th Annual Conference, Jupiters Hotel/Casino, Townsville, Queensland, (50-50). 26 - 29 September 2003.

  • Becker, J. H. and Grutter, A. (2003). Mechanisms that motivate cleaner shrimp to clean: a market design. In: Understanding and Protecting Coral Reefs. Australian Coral Reef Society 80th Annual Conference, Jupiters Hotel/Casino, Townsville, Queensland, (19-19). 26 - 29 September 2003.

  • Fury, C. A. and Grutter, A. (2003). Preliminary results for a study on parasite removal using chemical baths and the effect of captivity on the ectoparasites of coral trout Plectropomus leopardus. In: John N. A. Hooper and Narelle Hall and Bernard M. Degnan, Proceedings of the Annual Conference on the Australian Marine Sciences Association. Marine Biocomplexity: The 2003 Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, (78-78). 9 - 11 July 2003.

  • Curtis, L. M., Ostlund-Nilsson, S., Nilsson, G. and Grutter, A. (2003). The isopod Anilocra apogonae affects the physiology and behaviour of its host fish Cheilodipterus quinquelineatus. In: John N. A. Hooper and Narelle Hall and Bernard M. Degnan, Proceedings of the Annual Conference on the Australian Marine Sciences Association. Marine Biocomplexity: The 2003 Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, (69-69). 9 - 11 July 2003.

  • Deveney, M. R., Whittington, I. and Grutter, A. (1999). Aspects of the interactions between cleaner fish, benedeniine monogenean parasites and their hosts. In: Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Society for Parasitology Inc.. Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Society for Parasitology, Yeppoon, Central Qld, (49). 26-30 September 1999.

  • Deveney, M. R., Whittington, I. and Grutter, A. (1999). Interactions between cleaner fish, benedeniine monogeneans and their hosts. In: Proceedings of: Fifth International Symposium on Fish Parasites. V International Symposium on Fish Parasites, České Budéjovice, Czech Republic, (34). 9-13 August 1999.

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Completed Supervision