Dr Rebecca Lawton

Senior Research Fellow

Qualifications: BSc Hons (Otago), PhD (James Cook University)

About Rebecca

I am a marine ecologist with broad interests in applied environmental science. I completed my undergrad and BSc Honours in Zoology and Ecology at the University of Otago. Following several years working at the then New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries, I moved to Townsville and completed my PhD in coral reef fish ecology at James Cook University. A desire to work in a more applied field led to a postdoc at James Cook University in  Macroalgal Biofuels and Bioproducts. This research aimed to identify environmental tolerances and optimise biomass productivities of species of macroalgae for the production of macroalgal bioproducts. Following a brief period working at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council as a Coastal Scientist, I have returned back to an academic career as part of the Entrepreneurial Universities Macroalgal Biotechnology Programme.

Research Interests

My research is centered on the growth and production of macroalgae (both freshwater and marine/seaweeds) and has two key focal areas. First, is the use of live macroalgae to bioremediate nutrient rich wastewaters from a range of sources including agriculture, aquaculture, horticulture, and municipal waste treatment. Second, is the aquaculture of seaweeds to produce biomass for macroalgal bioactives and bioproducts. I am interested in understanding the ecology of target species and how this can be applied to optomise productivity and biomass characteristics under different environmental conditions. Underpinning both streams of research is the development of innovative technologies and processes to enable commercial scale cultivation. A central theme of my research is the development of a circular economy. Macroalgae can provide the foundation of a circular economy model that can be applied to agricultural, municipal and industrial systems to bioremediate wastewaters and generate new products.


Marshall, D.J., Lawton, R.J., Monro, K. and Paul, N.A. (2018) Biochemical evolution in response to intensive harvesting in a green alga: evolution of quantity and quality. Evolutionary Applications. DOI: 10.1111/eva.12632

Lawton, R.J., Cole, A.J., Roberts, D.A, Paul, N.A. and de Nys, R. (2017) The industrial ecology of freshwater macroalgae for biomass applications. Algal Research 24: 486-491

Lawton, R.J., Paul, N.A., Marshall, D.J. and Monro, K. (2017). Limited evolutionary responses to harvesting regime in the intensive production of algae. Journal of Applied Phycology 29: 1449-1459

Mata, L., Lawton, R.J., Magnusson, M., Andreakis, N., de Nys, R. and Paul, N.A. (2017) Within-species and temperature-related variation in the growth and natural products of the red alga Asparagopsis taxiformis. Journal of Applied Phycology 29: 1437-1447.

Philliips, J.A., Lawton, R.J., de Nys, R., Paul, N.A. and Carl, C. (2016) Ulva sapora, a new abundant tubular species of Ulva (Ulvales) from the tropical Pacific Ocean. Phycologia 55: 55-64.

Carl, C., Lawton, R.J., Paul, N.A. and de Nys, R. (2016). Reproductive output and productivity of filamentous tropical Ulva over time. Journal of Applied Phycology 28: 429-438.

Lawton, R. J., de Nys, R., Magnusson, M. and Paul, N. A. (2015). The influence of salinity on the biomass productivity, protein and lipid composition of freshwater macroalgae. Algal Research 12: 213–220.

Gosch, B.J., Lawton, R.J., Paul, N.A., de Nys R. and Magnusson, M. (2015a). Environmental effects on the growth and fatty acids in three isolates of Derbesia tenuissima (Bryodsidales, Chlorophyta). Algal Research 9: 82-93.

Lawton, R. J., Carl, C., de Nys, R. and Paul, N. A. (2015b). Heritable variation in growth and biomass productivity in the clonal freshwater macroalga Oedogonium. Algal Research 8:108-114.

Cole, A.J., Lawton R.J., Pisapia, C. and Pratchett, M.S. (2014). The effects of coral bleaching on settlement preferences and growth of juvenile butterflyfishes. Marine Environmental Research 98: 106-110.

Carl, C., de Nys, R., Lawton, R.J. and Paul, N.A. (2014) Methods for the induction of reproduction in a tropical species of filamentous Ulva. PLoS ONE 9: e97396.

Lawton R.J., de Nys R., Skinner, S. and Paul, N.A. (2014) Isolation and Identification of Oedogonium Species and Strains for Biomass Applications. PLoS ONE 9: e90223.

Lawton, R.J., Pratchett, M.S. and Delbeek, C. (2014) Harvesting of butterflyfishes for aquarium and artisanal fisheries. In M.S. Pratchett, M.L. Berumen and B.G. Kapoor (eds.) Biology of butterflyfishes. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, USA, pp. 269-291.

Lawton R.J., Mata L.F., de Nys R. and Paul N.A. (2013) Algal bioremediation of waste waters from land-based aquaculture using Ulva: selecting target species and strains. PLoS ONE 8: e77344.

Lawton R.J., de Nys R., Paul N.A. (2013) Selecting reliable and robust freshwater macroalgae for biomass applications. PLoS ONE 8: e64168.

Januchowski-Hartley, F.A., Nash, K.L. & Lawton, R.J. (2012) The influence of spear guns, dive gear and observers on estimating fish flight initiation distance on coral reefs. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 469: 113-119.

Pratchett, M.S., Bay, L.K., Coker, D.J., Cole, A.J., Lawton, R.J. (2012) Effects of climate change on reef-building corals and associated fishes. Pp 59-67 in: Lunney D, Hutching P (Eds) Wildlife and Climate Change: towards robust conservation strategies for Australian fauna. Royal Zoological Society of NSW, Mosman, NSW, Australia.

Lawton, R.J., and Pratchett, M.S. (2012) Influence of dietary specialisation and resource availability on geographical variation in the abundance of butterflyfishes. Ecology and Evolution, 2: 1347-1361.

Cole, A.J., Lawton, R.J., Wilson, S.K. & Pratchett (2012) Consumption of tabular acroporid corals by reef fishes: a comparison with plant-herbivore interactions. Functional Ecology, 26: 307-316.

Lawton, R.J., Cole, A.J., Berumen, M.L. & Pratchett, M.S. (2012a) Geographic variation in resource use by specialist versus generalist butterflyfishes. Ecography, 35: 566-576.

Lawton, R.J., Pratchett, M.S., &Berumen, M.L. (2012b). The use of specialisation indices to predict vulnerability of coral-feeding butterflyfishes to environmental change. Oikos: 121: 191-200.

Lawton, R.J., Messmer, V., Pratchett, M.S., and Bay, L.B. (2011a) High gene flow across large geographic scales reduces extinction risk for a highly specialized coral feeding butterflyfish. Molecular Ecology, 20: 3584-3598.

Lawton, R.J., Pratchett, M.S., and Bay, L.B. (2011b) Cross-species amplification of 44 microsatellite loci developed for Chaetodon trifascialis, C. lunulatus and C. vagabundus in 22 related butterflyfish species. Molecular Ecology Resources 11: 323-327.

Cole, A.J., Lawton, R.J., Pratchett, M.S., Wilson, S.K. (2011). Chronic coral consumption by butterflyfish. Coral Reefs, 30: 85-93.

Pratchett, M.S., Munday, P.L., Graham, N.A.J., Kronen, M., Pinica, S., Friedman, K., Brewer, T., Bell, J.D., Wilson, S.K., Cinner, J.E., Kinch, J.P., Lawton, R.J., Williams, A.J., Chapman, L., Magron, F., Webb, A. (2011) Vulnerability of coastal fisheries in the tropical Pacific to climate change. Chapter 9. In: Bell, J.D., Johnson, J.E., Hobday, A.J. (Eds) Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change. Secretariat for the Pacific Community, Noumea.

Lawton, R.J., Pratchett, M.S., and Bay, L.B. (2010a) Isolation and characterization of 29 microsatellite loci for studies of population connectivity in the butterflyfishes Chaetodon trifascialis and Chaetodon lunulatus. Conservation Genetics Resources 2: 209-213.

Lawton, R.J., Wing, S.R., Lewis, A.M. (2010b). Evidence for discrete subpopulations of sea perch (Helicolenus percoides) across four fjords in Fiordland, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 44: 309-322.

Béné, C., Lawton, R. & Allison, E.H. (2010) “Trade matters in the fight against poverty”: narratives, perceptions, and (lack of) evidence in the case of fish trade in Africa. World Development 38: 933-954

Hooper, M., Lawton R., Bartholomew M. &Glaister, J. (2008). International governance of deep sea fisheries – a perspective from New Zealand. pp 189 - 221. In: M. G. Schechter, W. W. Taylor, and N. J. Leonard (Eds). International governance of fisheries ecosystems: learning from the past, finding solutions for the future. American Fisheries Society, Symposium #136, Bethesda, MD. 458pp

Conference Proceedings:

Béné, C. & Lawton, R. (2008) Global Change in African Fish Trade: Engine of Development or Threat to Local Food Security? 12 pp. In: Proceedings of the Fourteenth Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade, July 22-25, 2008, Nha Trang, Vietnam: Achieving a Sustainable Future: Managing Aquaculture, Fishing, Trade and Development. Compiled by Ann L. Shriver. International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade, Corvallis, Oregon, USA, 2008.

Teaching Commitments


Ecology; Environment; Environmental Science and Technology

Contact Details

Room: SP:H.1.02
Phone: +64 7 578 5936
Cellphone: 022 017 8133