Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society

Professor J Murray Roberts

Research interests:

Environmental scientist who studies the biology and ecology of deep-sea or cold-water corals and other complex seabed communities. These organisms vary from single solitary corals to large reef framework-forming scleractinian species. The latter, and long-lived octocorals and black corals, form structurally complex habitats on the continental shelf, slope, offshore banks and seamounts where studies over the last ten years have shown them to form local centres of species diversity and important archives of palaeoceanographic information. His current research goals can be summarised as ‘working to advance understanding of the biology and ecology of structurally complex seabed communities and provide the information needed for their long-term management and conservation’.

Career history:

Professor of Applied Marine Biology and Ecology at the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences. I lead the Changing Oceans research group and co-ordinates the European ATLAS project, a 4-year, €9.3M European project to create a Trans-Atlantic assessment and deep-water ecosystem-based spatial management plan for Europe.

My previous roles include Reader and then Professor of Marine Biology and Director of the Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (2009-16) where I co-ordinated the development of the Lyell Centre (2012-15). Before working in Edinburgh I was based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (1997-2009) with a period as Marie Curie Fellow at the Center for Marine Science, University North Carolina Wilmington in the USA (2007-09).

I studied Biology at the University of York before completing a PhD at the University of Glasgow examining nitrogen cycling in the Anemonia viridis symbiosis. Since 1997 my work on cold-water corals and deep-sea biology has taken me to sites off the UK, Norway, Ireland and the SE United States. I am a senior author of the ‘Cold-water Corals’, the first book covering the biology and geology of these important deep-sea habitats, a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report and co-lead editor of a 2014 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity report on ocean acidification. I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and hold an honorary position at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, USA. I have led or participated in 23 offshore research cruises.

Active research projects:

Leverhulme Foundation Research Project. The nature and consequences of historic and future ocean acidification; insights from boron isotopes in corals. Award with Gavin Foster (University of Southampton). 2017-2019. £262,470

European Commission H2020 grant. ‘ATLAS’ A trans-Atlantic assessment and deep-water ecosystem based spatial management plan for Europe. 2016-2020. €9.3M

INSITE Data Initiative. Grant from the Joint Industry Programme INSITE examining the influence of man-made structures in the ecosystem. Feb 2016 – Jan 2017. £88,043

Oil & Gas UK. Environmental assessment of deep-water sponge fields in relation to oil and gas activity: a west of Shetland case study. Contract run in association with NERC Centre for Doctoral Training PhD project (Johanne Vad). October 2014 – September 2018. £100,777

Recent publications:

Fox A, Henry L-AM, Corne DW, Roberts JM (2016) Sensitivity of a marine protected area network to shifts in atmospheric state and ocean circulation. Royal Society Open Science 3:160494

Roberts JM, Murray F, Anagnostou E, Hennige S, Gori A, Henry L-A, Fox A, Kamenos N, Foster GL (2016) Cold-water corals in an era of rapid global change: are these the deep ocean’s most vulnerable ecosystems? The Cnidaria, Past, Present and Future. Springer. Goffredo S, Dubinsky Z (Eds.) pp. 53-606

Henry L-A, Stehmann M, De Clippele L, Findlay H, Golding N, Roberts JM (2016) Seamount spawning grounds of the deep-water skate Bathyraja richardsoni (Garrick 1961) Journal of Fish Biology. doi:10.1111/jfb.13041

Milligan RJ, Spence G, Roberts JM, Bailey DM (2016) Fish communities associated with cold-water corals vary with depth and habitat type. Deep-sea Research 114: 43-54

Orejas C, Gori A, Rad-Menéndez C, Last KS, Davies AJ, Beveridge CM, Sadd D, Kiriakoulakis K Witte U, Roberts JM (2016) Capture efficiency and feeding behaviour of the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa: flow speed and food size make a difference. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 481: 34-40

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