Climate change is impacting biodiversity around the world, as all living things attempt to adjust to rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns. New research from Dr. Lucas Griffin, a current postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Environmental Conservation who is transitioning to a faculty position at the University of South Florida, will allow us to focus on one particular organism that could have significant repercussions throughout the Earth’s Southern Hemisphere.  

Griffin recently won a Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarship (funded by Deakin University) to study a fish, the Murray cod, in Southeast Australia. Popular with anglers, this species of cod is also a culturally important fish for Australia's First Peoples located in the Murray-Darling Basin. 

This award offers a prestigious and competitive fellowship that provides unique opportunities for scholars to teach and conduct research abroad. Fulbright scholars also play a critical role in U.S. public diplomacy, establishing long-term relationships between people and nations. 

man with a black shirt in front of trees
Dr. Lucas Griffin, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Environmental Conservation

“This Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarship is a defining moment in my academic journey, as it will enable me to conduct innovative research in climate change and ecophysiology, and broaden my international network of collaborators. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of the Fulbright Scholar Program and to work with such exceptional scientists in Australia.” 

The Murray cod was prized enough not only to be depleted due to overfishing, but also to be recovered through large-scale conservation efforts. Now, the Murray cod faces an emerging and existential threat from climate change. Rising water temperatures, frequent drought, fluctuating oxygen levels, and altered prey availability are challenging the Murray cod's physiological processes and energy balance. Additionally, habitat degradation and water regulation have fragmented populations and hindered migratory and recruitment patterns, potentially affecting their genetic diversity and resilience. 

Griffin’s research aims to better understand the bioenergetic consequences of climate change on the Murray cod. "Working with Dr. Timothy Clark at Deakin University, and Dr. Brett Ingram at the Victorian Fisheries Authority, this project will quantify Murray cod energetic needs by examining metabolic rates across multiple body sizes and water temperatures,” explained Griffin. “We will also quantify energy expenditure from digestion, which is unknown for Murray cod, across current and forecasted temperatures. Our findings will improve Murray cod bioenergetic models and help to understand population dynamics and how the species might respond to warming temperatures due to climate change. This will be vital for effective resource management.” 

Bioenergetics offers a mechanistic approach to characterizing the responses of animals to environmental threats and changes such as climate change. Griffin’s research is designed to bridge the gap between theoretical models and practical applications in conservation.  

“In terms of broader societal and scientific impact, we believe this research will offer actionable data for conservationists, fishing communities, and government bodies like the Victorian Fisheries Authority,” said Griffin. “We expect these results will contribute to habitat suitability models, inform Murray cod stocking strategies, and provide new insights into how population dynamics could be influenced by climate change. Collectively, our priority with this research is to aid in the effective management and conservation of aquatic ecosystems, like that of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, facing climate change.”

Article posted in Research for Faculty and Public