Professor Emma Johnston
Dean of Science, Head of the Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab (AMEE)
Field of Research: 
Estuary Health, anthropogenic impacts on marine and estuarine environments
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 7916
BEES Office
Room 4110, Level 4
Biological Sciences South (E26)

UNSW, Kensington 2052


Faculty Dean's Office

Room 201F, Level 2
Dalton Building (F12)
UNSW, Kensington 2052

Emma Johnston.JPG

For general lab and student enquiries, please contact


Research & Current Projects

Professor Emma Johnston is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Reserach) at the University of New South Wales and head of the Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab (AMEE). Her group investigates the ecology of human impacts in marine systems. She combines the diverse disciplines of ecology, microbiology and ecotoxicology in an exciting research program that expands our fundamental understanding and provides recommendations for management. Her research is conducted in such diverse field environments as Antarctica, the Great Barrier Reef and temperate Australian estuaries.

Professor Johnston’s work has met the highest standards of international research, as evidenced by more than 90 peer-reviewed publications. She is a television presenter for BBC/Foxtel and Vice President of Science and Technology Australia. Professor Johnston contributes expert opinion to state, federal & international government agencies and consults with industry through the development and implementation of environmental monitoring programs.

She leads a large and friendly research group that includes postdocs, research assistants and students at all levels (PhD, Masters, Honours and undergraduates). They approach their research from both an ecological and ecotoxicological perspective using field experimentation wherever possible.

Major Research Themes

Estuarine Health
Estuaries are widely considered the most impacted of all marine habitats, and more than half of Australian estuaries are disturbed by anthropogenic activities to some degree. Most are subject to combinations of stressors from industry, agriculture, urbanisation and coastal development. This program aims to identify processes and interactions that drive impacts in an effort to develop targeted and effective management strategies to conserve biodiversity in these systems

Antarctic Marine Communities
Antarctica is no longer considered a pristine environment and the impact of human activity is likely to increase in coming years. This project compares the vulnerability of Antarctic assemblages to those of other regions and provides information on the responses of individuals, populations and communities to environmental stressors.

Marine Biological Invasions
This program aims to determine the major drivers of marine bioinvasions. We investigate whether disturbance facilitates the colonisation, persistence or spread of non-native species and how biological diversity modifies this response.



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Research in the Media


In her element - Professor Emma Johnston


Professor Johnston is a co-presenter for the Foxtel/BBC television series "Coast Australia". Here she does a story on whale sharks in Ningaloo:


Coast Australia CLIP - Whale Sharks

Q&A - String Theory, Sea Turtles, AI and Pi



Dr Katherine Dafforn
Room 515, Biological Sciences Building
9385 8701

Dr Graeme Clark
Room 566, Biological Science Building
9385 0181

Dr Mark Browne
Room 515, Biological Science Building
9385 8701

Dr Mariana Mayer-Pinto
Room 515, Biological Science Building
9385 8701

Dr Luke Hedge
Room 566, Biological Science Building

9385 0181

Dr Ana Bugnot
Room 515, Biological Science Building
9385 8701


Research Students


Simone Birrer (PhD candidate) (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Damon Bolton (PhD candidate) – Indirect effects of marine sanctuary zones (with Dr Coleman, Batemans’s Marine Park).

Kingsley Griffin (PhD candidate) – Mapping distribution and stress effects in Sydney Harbour marine habitat (with Dr Luke Hedge, UNSW)

Aria Lee (PhD candidate) – Gametogenesis and larval settlement of the invasive fanworm, Sabella spallanzanii (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Vivian Sim (PhD candidate) – Potential Influences of Anthropogenic Boating Structures on Estuarine Health (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Jess Merrett (PhD candidate) – Distribution and impacts of marine debris in a complex, urbanized estuary: Sydney Harbour (with Dr Luke Hedge, UNSW)

Nina Schaefer (PhD candidate) – Thermal stress in rock pool communities (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)

Shinjiro Ushiama (PhD candidate) (with Dr Katherine Dafforn, UNSW)



Katelyn Edge (PhD 2013) – Do cellular biomarkers in the Sydney Rock Oyster reflect ecological impacts of contaminants within estuaries?

Andrew McKinley (PhD 2012) Assessing and understanding ecological changes to fish communities in highly disturbed estuaries (with Dr Miskiewiecz & Dr Taylor, UNSW).

Luke Hedge (PhD 2012) Propagule pressure and invasion success (with Dr Wayne O’Connor, DPI).

Carol Sukhn (PhD 2011) Bioaccumulation of toxicants from complex effluents (with Imad Saoud, AUB).

Emma Birdsey (PhD 2011) Habitat mediated changes to marine biodiversity (with A/P Poore, UNSW).

Louise McKenzie (PhD 2010) Reaping the benefits of an anthropogenic contaminant: the evolution of copper tolerance in a marine invader (with Professor Brooks, UNSW).

Graeme Clark (PhD 2010) - Disturbance, diversity and invasion in marine systems.

Katherine Dafforn (PhD 2009) Anthropogenic modification of estuaries: disturbance and artificial structures influence marine invasion (with Dr Glasby NSW I&I).

Nicole Hill (PhD 2009) - Contaminated sediments and hard-substrate marine communities (with Dr Simpson, CSIRO).

David Roberts (PhD 2008) - Responses of algal epifauna to pulsed and chronic contamination of temperate algae beds (with A/P Poore, UNSW).

Richard Piola (PhD 2008) - Differential tolerance of introduced and native marine invertebrates to heavy metal pollution.

Mailie Gall (MSc. 2010) Tolerance and the assessment of heavy metal pollution in sessile invertebrates.

Ka-Man Lee (MSc. 2006) - Taxonomy and ecology of predatory marine flatworms (Platyhelminthes: Polycladida) in Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia.

Jaz Lawes (PhD candidate) - Development of tools for health assessment of estuaries. (with Dr Graeme Clark, UNSW and Associate Professor Alistair Poore, UNSW)

Ceiwen Pease (PhD candidate) - Chemical arms races: the use of pharmacology to explain diet choices and responses to contaminants in marine herbivores (with Associate Professor Poore, UNSW).

Kate Reeds (Masters candidate) - Sydney Offshore Artificial Reef - Benthic Gradient Study (with Professor Iain Suthers, UNSW)

Shinjiro Ushiama (Masters candidate) - Productivity, diversity and predation in rocky reef invertebrate communities (with Professor Iain Suthers, UNSW).

James Lavender (PhD candidate) – Marine bioinvasions in a changing climate (with Dr Dafforn, UNSW and Dr Bishop Macquarie University).

Sally Bracewell (PhD candidate) – Species traits and community dynamics across a latitudinal gradient (with Dr Graeme Clark, UNSW).

Asunta Macolino (Honours candidate)