Dominic Mcafee

Dr Dominic Mcafee

University Research Associate

School of Biological Sciences

Faculty of Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD (as Co-Supervisor) - email supervisor to discuss availability.

My work centers on the recovery of lost marine ecosystems. This research seeks to understand and leverage the ecological and social complexities of marine socio-ecological systems, so we can develop solutions that ensure marine habitat restoration is both a social and environmental success. My research focuses on four main areas:

o Investigating the role of ecological interactions and technology in accelerating the restoration of lost shellfish reefs.
o Understanding how shellfish ecosystems, particularly oysters, enhance the resilience and function of coastal ecosystems.
o Developing conservation messaging strategies that leverage people’s cognitive biases to enhance public engagement with conservation.
o Understanding the socio-political drivers of conservation successes so they can be disseminated and replicated.

Marine ecology and restoration are my bread-and-butter, but I am deeply fascinated by conservation psychology and what makes conservation efforts successful. I love all things oyster and communicating science to diverse audiences. Naturally, I am part of Australia's Shellfish Reef Restoration Network's communication team.

I work closely with Prof Sean Connell on the restoration of southern Australia's lost shellfish reefs, and on developing strategies that use the cognitive biases of people to enhance public engagement with conservation. This research aims to both improve the way we restore marine habitats and how we communicate their value to the broader public, so we can build the productivity and adaptability of Australia's marine ecosystems through large-scale restoration of oyster reefs of high social value.  

Ostrea angasi reef, Tasmania. Photo: SD Connell

Australia's sole remaining Flat oyster reef in Tasmania. We are working to bring them back. Photo: SD Connell.

The restoration of Australia's lost shellfish reefs

My research focuses on improving the way we restore marine habitats, including strategies to accelerate the rate of restoration. Much of our field research occurs on South Australia's two shellfish reef restorations: Windara Reef - Australia's first large-scale reef restoration (20 hectare), and Glenelg Reef (construction Nov 2020).

We are interested in all aspects of reef restoration, with a primary focus on enhancing the recruitment and survival of oysters to the reef, ensuring it's long-term growth and performance. Projects include developing multi-species restoration approaches that boost oyster performance; understanding the spatio-temporal dynamics of natural recruitment to maximise reef recovery; targeting for restoration the habitat traits that support ecological function, and; developing and testing marine technologies (e.g. underwater speakers) that can accelerate restoration processes. I am happy to discuss any related or new project ideas, and our rapidly developing marine technology research. 

This restoration research is in partnership with South Australia's Department for Environment and Water, while our marine technology work is a research collaboration with environmental engineering NGO, AusOcean

McAfee et al. 2020_Journal of Applied Ecology

Multi‐species restoration accelerates recovery of extinguished oyster reefs. McAfee et al. 2020, Journal of Applied Ecology.

Leveraging the cognitive biases of people to improve effective conservation messaging 

My research with communication scientists looks to bridge the gap between ecology and conservation psychology to develop a communication strategy that ignites public interest. Public engagement provides a foundation for large-scale restoration initiatives as public support legitimises Government investment in restoration. Yet, evidence on the most effective way to communicate conservation issues is limited. Communicating a balance between environmental challenges and optimism for positive environmental change has the potential to improve conservation messaging, and my research examines how the psychological mechanisms of optimism resonates with the intended audience.  

This research seeks to understand the psychological levers and social practices that inform human perspectives and behaviour towards the environment, so we can use this knowledge to enhance public engagement with conservation. I am particularly interested in understanding the socio-cultural perspectives that coastal communities and industries have of marine restoration projects, which can provide clues on what information is likely to resonate and spark greater engagement with restoration efforts. Such knowledge holds promise for not only improving communication of restoration efforts, but with environmental science more generally. Projects take many forms, so get in touch to here more.

McAfee et al. 2019

Everyone loves a success story: optimism inspires conservation engagement. McAfee et al. 2019, BioScience.

Other research interests: Ecosystem based management; tests of ecosystem engineering theory; climate-adaptation strategies for coastal systems; invertebrate physiology; mangrove ecology

Fun in the mud       Fun on the water       Fun with oysters       Fun with chitons       Fun on tropical rocky shores

Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Research Fellowship Award, 2016, $24,500

Eureka Prize for Applied Environmental Research, 2020, $10,000

Guest lecturing:

  • University of Adelaide - Frontiers in Marine Science, 2018-2020
  • University of Hong Kong - Estuarine health; Oyster aquaculture, 2016
  • Macquarie University - Marine Ecology, 2015-2016

Macquarie University, Department of Biological Science tutor:

  • Marine environmental issues - 2015-2017
  • Marine Ecology - 2014-2015
  • Invertebrate zoology - 2014
  • Experimental design and data analysis - 2014
  • Ecology - 2013-2014
  • Position: University Research Associate
  • Phone: 0420995406
  • Email:
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Darling, floor 1
  • Room: 1 20B
  • Org Unit: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

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