Dr Gareth J. Williams

Photograph of Dr Gareth Williams


I am a Lecturer in Marine Population Ecology and my work focuses on the natural and anthropogenic drivers of coral reef communities. I hold a BSc in Marine Biology (University of Liverpool, UK), an MSc in Marine Environmental Protection (Bangor University, UK), and a PhD in Marine Biology (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand). My PhD research identified patterns of disease on coral reefs across the Pacific Ocean, combining macroecology, experimental ecology, and histopathology to identify drivers of disease prevalence. A focus study site of mine was Palmyra Atoll, an uninhabited coral reef atoll in the Northern Line Islands. After obtaining my PhD in 2011 I was awarded a post-doctoral scholarship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego (UCSD) where I continued to work on the macroecology of Pacific coral reefs. This role at Scripps transitioned into an Assistant Project Scientist position within the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation in 2013. I left Scripps in late 2015 to take up my full-time role within the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University. Since completing my PhD in 2011 I have been involved in grants raising over £2.2M from a variety of sources including the National Science Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA, and the National Geographic Society.

Research Interests

I am a quantitative ecologist who specialises in coral reef ecology. My work focuses on the interaction of organisms with their environment, often taking a macroecological approach. I am particularly interested in how human activities and natural physical gradients (oceanography, climate, disturbance histories) interact to drive community patterns. Much of my work incorporates remote coral reefs free from direct human impact, providing key replication at the unimpacted end of an intact-to-degraded ecosystem spectrum.

I work closely with colleagues at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Coral Reef Ecosystem Program (CREP) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who regularly monitor over 40 U.S.-affiliated coral reef islands and atolls across the Pacific Ocean. By combining these efforts with other study locations in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Caribbean we increase geographic coverage and tackle broad questions relating to the functioning of coral reef ecosystems at multiple spatial scales.

Committee positions

Research Committee (Member and Secretary)
Marketing Committee (SOS representative at the College of Natural Sciences level)
Athena Swan Committee (Member)

My research falls into four main themes

  1. Biophysical relationships on coral reefs – quantifying relationships between the community structure of multiple trophic levels (microbes, algae, corals, fish) and their surrounding environmental forcing at various spatial scales.
  2. Human impacts to coral reefs – how humans shape coral reef ecosystem communities and impact ecosystem resilience.
  3. Climate change effects to coral reefs – how past, present, and future climate conditions alter coral reef ecosystem structure and function.
  4. Disease ecology of coral reefs – human and natural drivers of disease prevalence on reefs and the characterisation of diseases with the use of histopathology.

Post-doctoral Researchers

Dr Ben Neal, Post-doctoral Researcher (co-advisor, Bigelow Marine Lab)

Dr Adel Heenan, Post-doctoral Fellow (primary advisor, Bangor University)

PhD Students

Ms Helen Ford, PhD thesis: The seascape ecology of disturbance and recovery on Pacific coral reefs (primary supervisor, Bangor University)

Ms Beth Francis, PhD thesis: Biological signals of the Island Mass Effect (primary supervisor, Bangor University)

Ms Anna Woodhead, PhD thesis: Capturing ecosystem service delivery from coral reefs (co-supervisor, Lancaster University)

Ms Ellie Vaughan, PhD thesis: Quantifying nutrient signals on coral reefs (co-supervisor, Lancaster University)

Mr Tim D'Urban-Jackson, PhD thesis: Remote sensing techniques to improve ecological mapping and monitoring for the marine renewable energy industry (co-supervisor, Bangor University)


Peer Reviewed Journal Papers

Thompson LR, Williams GJ, Haroon MF, Shibl A, Larsen P, Shorenstein J, Knight R, Stingl U (2017)
Metagenomic covariation along densely sampled environmental gradients in the Red Sea. ISME J 11:138-151

Caldwell ZR, Zgliczynski BJ, Williams GJ, Sandin SA (2016)
Reef Fish Survey Techniques: Assessing the Potential for Standardizing Methodologies. PloS one 11,4, e0153066

Gove JM, McManus MA, Neuheimer AB, Polovina JJ, Drazen JC, Smith CR, Merrifield MA, Friedlander AM, Ehses JS, Young CW, Dillon AK, Williams GJ (2016)
Near-island biological hotspots in barren ocean basins. Nature Communications 7: 10581. Recommended by F1000

Heenan A, Hoey AS, Williams GJ, Williams ID (2016)
Natural bounds on herbivorous coral reef fishes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283: 20161716

Knapp ISS, Williams GJ, Bell JJ (2016)
Temporal dynamics and persistence of sponge assemblages in a Central Pacific atoll lagoon. Mar Ecol 37: 1147-1153

Maynard J, van Hooidonk R, Harvell CD, Eakin CM, Liu G, Willis BL, Williams GJ, Groner ML, Dobson A, Heron SF, Glenn R, Reardon K, Shields JD (2016)
Improving marine disease surveillance through sea temperature monitoring, outlooks and projections. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Science 371: 20150208

Norström AV, Nyström M, Jouffray J-B, Folke C, Graham NAJ, Moberg F, Olsson P, Williams GJ (2016)
Guiding coral reef futures in the Anthropocene. Front Ecol Environ 14: 490-498

Puotinen M, Maynard JA, Beeden R, Radford B, Williams GJ (2016)
A robust operational model for predicting where tropical cyclone waves damage coral reefs. Scientific reports 6, 26009

van Hooidonk R, Maynard J, Tamelander J, Gove J, Ahmadia G, Raymundo L, Williams G, Heron SF, Planes S (2016)
Local-scale projections of coral reef futures and implications of the Paris Agreement. Scientific Reports 6:39666

Caldwell JM, Burns JHR, Couch C, Ross M, Runyon C, Takabayashi M, Vargas-Ángel B, Walsh W, Walton M, White D, Williams G, Heron SF (2016)
Hawai'i Coral Disease database (HICORDIS): species-specific coral health data from across the Hawaiian archipelago. Data in Brief 8:1054-1058

Williams GJ, Gove JM, Eynaud Y, Zgliczynski B, Sandin SA (2015)
Local human impacts decouple natural biophysical relationships on Pacific coral reefs. Ecography 38: 751-761 (Editor’s Choice)

Beeden R, Maynard J, Puotinen M, Marshall P, Dryden J, Goldberg J, and Williams GJ (2015)
Impacts and recovery from severe tropical cyclone Yasi on the Great Barrier Reef. PloS One 10: e0121272

Gove JM*, Williams GJ*, McManus MA, Clark JS, Ehses JS, Wedding LM (2015)
Coral reef benthic regimes exhibit non-linear threshold responses to natural physical drivers. Marine Ecology Progress Series 522: 33-48 (*joint first author)

Jouffray JB, Nyström M, Norström AV, Williams ID, Wedding LM, Kittinger JN, and Williams GJ (2015)
Human and natural drivers of multiple coral reef regimes across the Hawaiian Archipelago. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 370: 20130268

Knapp IS, Forsman ZH, Williams GJ, Toonen RJ, Bell JJ (2015)
Cryptic species obscure introduction pathway of the blue Caribbean sponge (Haliclona (Soestella) caerulea), (order: Haplosclerida) to Palmyra Atoll. PeerJ 3: e1170

Lawrence SA, Wilkinson SP, Davy JE, Arlidge WNS, Williams GJ, Wilson WH, Davy SK (2015)
Influence of local environmental variables on the viral consortia associated with the coral Montipora capitata from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, USA. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 74: 251-262

Maynard J, McKagan S, Raymundo L, Johnson S, Ahmadia GN, Johnston L, Houk P, Williams GJ, Kendall M, Heron S, van Hooidonk R, Mcleod E, Tracey D, Planes S (2015)
Assessing relative resilience potential of coral reefs to inform management. Biological Conservation 192: 109-119

Maynard J, van Hooidonk R, Eakin MC, Puotinen M, Garren M, Williams GJ, Heron SF, Lamb J, Weil E, Willis B, Harvell CD (2015)
Projections of climate conditions that increase coral disease susceptibility and pathogen abundance and virulence. Nature Climate Change 5: 688-694

Sudek M, Williams GJ, Runyon C, Aeby GS, Davy SK (2015)
Disease dynamics of Porites bleaching with tissue loss: prevalence, virulence, transmission, and environmental drivers. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 113: 59-68

Williams GJ, Price NN, Ushijima B, Aeby GS, Callahan S, Davy SK, Gove JM, Johnson MD, Knapp IS, Shore-Maggio A, Smith JE, Videau P, Work TM (2014)
Ocean warming and acidification have complex interactive effects on the dynamics of a marine fungal disease. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 281: 20133069. (Recommended by Faculty of 1000)

Cowie ROM, Williams GJ, Mass EW, Voyles KM, Ryan KG (2014)
Antarctic sea ice microbial communities show distinct patterns of zonation in response to algal-derived photosynthates and nutrients. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 73: 123-134

Kelly L, Williams GJ, Barott KL, Carlson CA, Dinsdale EA, Edwards RA, Haas AF, Haynes M, Lim Y, McDole T, Neslon CE, Sala E, Sandin SA, Smith JE, Vermeij MJA, Youle M, Rohwer F (2014)
Local genomic adaptation of coral reef-associated microbiomes to gradients of natural variability and anthropogenic stressors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 111: 10227-10232

Koweek D, Dunbar RB, Rogers JS, Williams GJ, Price N, Mucciarone D, Teneva L (2014)
Environmental and ecological controls of coral community metabolism on Palmyra Atoll. Coral Reefs 34: 1-13

McCauley DJ, Young HS, Guevara R, Williams GJ, Power E, Dunbar RB, Bird DW, Durham WH, Micheli F (2014)
Positive and negative effects of a threatened parrotfish on reef ecosystems. Conservation Biology 28: 1312-1321

Williams GJ (2013)
Contrasting recovery following removal of growth anomalies in the corals Acropora and Montipora. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 106: 181-185.

Williams GJ, Smith JE, Conklin EJ, Gove JM, Sala E, Sandin SA (2013)
Benthic communities at two remote Pacific coral reefs: effects of reef habitat, depth, and wave energy gradients on spatial patterns. PeerJ 1:e81

Gove JM, Williams GJ, McManus MA, Heron SF, Sandin SA, Vetter OJ, Foley DG (2013)
Quantifying climatological ranges and anomalies for Pacific coral reef ecosystems. PLoS One 8(4): e61974

Knapp ISK, Williams GJ, Carballo JL, Cruz-Barraza JA, Gardner JPA, Bell JJ (2013)
Reduced environmental quality supports extensive sponge assemblages in an atoll lagoon. Marine Pollution Bulletin 66: 209-22

Barott KL, Williams GJ, Vermeij MJA, Harris J, Smith JE, Rohwer FL, Sandin SA (2012)
Natural history of coral-algae competition across a gradient of human activity in the Line Islands. Marine Ecology Progress Series 460: 1-12. (Feature Article)

Kelly LW, Barott KL, Dinsdale E, Friedlander AM, Nosrat B, Obura D, Sala E, Sandin SA, Smith JE, Vermeij MJA, Williams GJ, Willner D, Rohwer F (2012)
Black reefs: iron-induced phase shifts on coral reefs. The ISME Journal 6: 638-649

Richards BL, Williams ID, Vetter OJ, Williams GJ (2012)
Environmental factors affecting large-bodied coral reef fish assemblages in the Mariana Archipelago. PLoS One 7(2): e31374

Williams GJ, Knapp IS, Maragos JE, Davy SK (2011)
Proximate environmental drivers of coral communities at Palmyra Atoll: establishing baselines prior to removing a WWII military causeway. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62(8): 1842-1851

Williams GJ, Knapp IS, Work TM, Conklin EJ (2011)
Outbreak of Acropora white syndrome following a mild bleaching event at Palmyra Atoll, Northern Line Islands, Central Pacific. Coral Reefs 30(3): 621

Williams GJ, Work TM, Aeby GS, Knapp IS, Davy SK (2011)
Gross and microscopic morphology of lesions in Cnidaria from Palmyra Atoll, Central Pacific. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 106: 165-173

Aeby GS, Williams GJ, Franklin EC, Kenyon J, Cox EF, Coles S, Work TM (2011)
Patterns of coral disease across the Hawaiian archipelago: relating disease to environment. PLoS One 6(5): e20370

Aeby GS*, Williams GJ*, Franklin EC, Haapkyla J, Harvell CD, Neale S, Page CA, Raymundo L,Vargas-Ángel B, Willis B, Work TM, Davy SK (2011)
Growth anomalies on the coral genera Acropora and Porites are strongly associated with host density and human population size across the Indo-Pacific. PLoS One 6(2): e16887 (*joint first author)

Williams GJ, Knapp IS, Aeby GS, Davy SK (2011)
Spatial and temporal patterns of scleractinian coral, soft coral and zoanthid disease on a remote, near-pristine coral reef (Palmyra Atoll, Central Pacific). Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 94: 89-100

Williams GJ, Knapp IS, Maragos JE, Davy SK (2011)
Response to Gardener et al. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62(12): 2878-2879

Williams GJ, Aeby GS, Cowie ROM, Davy SK (2010)
Predictive modeling of coral disease distribution within a reef system. PLoS One 5(2): e9264

Williams GJ, Knapp IS, Maragos JE, Davy SK (2010)
Modeling patterns of coral bleaching at a remote Central Pacific Atoll. Marine Pollution Bulletin 60: 1467-1476

Aeby GS, Ross M, Williams GJ, Lewis TD, Work TM (2010)
Disease dynamics of Montipora white syndrome within Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii: distribution, seasonality, virulence, and transmissibility. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 91: 1-8

Williams GJ, Aeby GS, Davy SK (2008)
Coral disease at Palmyra Atoll, a remote reef system in the Central Pacific. Coral Reefs 27: 207

Williams GJ, Cameron MJ, Turner JT, Ford RB (2008)
Quantitative characterisation of reef fish diversity among habitats in a north-eastern New Zealand marine reserve. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 42: 33-46

Williams GJ, Maragos JE, Davy SK (2008)
Characterization of the coral communities at Palmyra Atoll in the remote central Pacific Ocean. Atoll Research Bulletin 557: 1-30

Book chapters

Maragos JE, Williams GJ (2011)
Pacific Coral Reefs: an introduction, In: Hopley E (ed) Encyclopedia of Modern Coral Reefs. Springer-Verlag, 1236 p

PDF copies of some of these publications are available (as indicated by hyperlinks in the list) for non-commercial research and educational purposes only. You may not use the material for commercial purposes or make multiple copies without requesting permission from the copyright holder (usually the book or journal publisher).