Dr Katherine Dafforn
Senior Research Associate
Field of Research: 
Ecotoxicology, soft sediments, invasive species, invertebrates
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 8701
Level 4 East
Biological Sciences South (E26)

UNSW, Kensington 2052

Member of the Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab (AMEE)

Research & Current Projects


Assessing and understanding ecological changes in highly disturbed estuaries: addressing the complexity of multiple stressors

The accurate assessment of ecosystem health requires that multiple lines of evidence (LOE) be collected and analysed to link exposure with effects.  As minimal resources are often allocated to assessments, the comparison and prioritization of methods that provide strong LOEs, and exclusion of less effective tools, is often necessary.  My research compares the costs and benefits of utilizing chemical (sediment contamination) and biological (biomonitors) tools to characterise the health of heavily modified and relatively unmodified estuaries.  The identification of priority LOEs and useful ‘metrics’ will assist in creating sensitive sampling programs to detect contaminant impacts where resources are limited.

Pathway to invasion: from artificial structure to natural reef

Invasions of exotic species are a significant threat to native ecosystems, and have been shown to reduce biodiversity through predation, competition for resources and habitat alteration. Past research in marine systems has considered the transport of exotic species to new regions, but few studies have identified the factors that allow exotic species to establish and subsequently invade natural communities. My research examines how these species are able to establish in new areas and invade natural reefs.


Marine urban sprawl: how can ecology inform the design of multifunctional artificial structures?

Testing the waters: impacts of contaminants on ecosystem structure and function in urban waterways.


AMSA Bulletin. Women in Science. June 2013

Northside Forum. Plenty of Fish in the Sea? The Oceans Under Threat. 4 May 2013.

Sydney Coastal Councils Group. Diverse Depths: See Beneath the Shallows.12 March 2013.

Sydney Morning Herald. A helping hand for local species. 4 December 2012.

Sydney Institute of Marine Science Blog “Habitat modification and invasive species – the evil twins? By Dr Inke Falkner 20 September 2012

Sydney Morning Herald. Treasures of an underwater world. 26 November 2009.

ABC Catalyst - "Attack of the heavy metal invaders" 23 October 2008.


See also:



Research Students


Simone Birrer (PhD candidate) – Impact of stormwater inputs on sediment microbial community structure and function (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW)

James Lavender (PhD candidate) – Latitudinal diversity gradients (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW and Dr Mel Bishop, Maquarie University).

Vivian Sim (PhD candidate) – Microplastic contamination in Sydney Harbour (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW and Dr Stuart Simpson, CSIRO).

Melanie Sun (PhD candidate – Developing ecogenomic signatures for estuarine health assessment: linking benthic community shifts to the effects of anthropogenic contaminants (with A/Prof Johnston & Dr Mark Brown, UNSW and Dr Anthony Chariton, CSIRO).

Aria Lee (Honours candidate) – Gametogenesis and larval settlement of the invasive fanworm, Sabella spallanzanii (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW).



Katelyn Edge (PhD 2013) – Efficacy of cellular biomarkers in marine filter feeding organisms for detecting effects of anthropogenic pollution (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW, Dr Stuart Simpson, CSIRO and Dr Anthony Roach, OEH).

Tyson Haddad (Honours 2013) – Biogeochemical fluxes and soft sediment community responses to estuarine eutrophication (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW and Jaimie Potts, OEH).

Natalie Rivero (Honours 2012) – Impact of recreational boating marinas on estuarine systems (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW and Dr Melinda Coleman, DPI).

Vivian Sim (Honours, 2012) – Sources of contamination within marinas and their impacts (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW, Dr Brendan Kelaher, SCU and Dr Stuart Simpson, CSIRO).

James Lavender (Honours, 2011) – Effects of predation and propagule pressure on invasion success in subtidal fouling communities (with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW).

Melanie Sun (Honours, 2010) – Anthropogenic stress and its role in shaping microbial community compositions in estuarine sediments(with A/Prof Emma Johnston and Dr Mark Brown, UNSW).

Brett Mulder (Honours 2010) – Responses of soft sediment fauna to anthropogenic disturbances of sediment and light regimes(with A/Prof Emma Johnston, UNSW and Dr Brendan Kelaher, SCU).



MSCI2001 Introductory Marine Science (Course Convenor and Lecturer)

BIOS2031 Biology of Invertebrates (Guest Lecturer)



Dafforn, K.A., Kelaher, B.P., Simpson, S.L., Coleman, M.A., Hutchings, P.A., Clark, G.F., Knott, N.A., Doblin, M.A., Johnston, E.L. 2013. Polychaete richness and abundance enhanced in anthropogenically modified estuaries despite high concentrations of toxic contaminants. PLoS ONE. 8(9): e77018.

Rivero, N.K., Dafforn, K.A., Coleman, M.A., Johnston, E.L. 2013. Environmental and ecological changes associated with a marina. Biofouling. 29: 803-815.

Sun, M.Y., Dafforn, K.A., Johnston, E.L., Brown, M.V. 2013. Core sediment bacteria drive community response to anthropogenic contamination over multiple environmental gradients. Environmental Microbiology. 15: 2517-2531.

Gall, M.L., Holmes, S.P., Dafforn, K.A., Johnston, E.L. 2013. Differential tolerance to copper, but no evidence of population-level genetic differences in a widely-dispersing native barnacle. Ecotoxicology. 22: 929-937.

Dafforn, K.A., Glasby, T.M., and Johnston, E.L. 2012. Comparing the invasibility of experimental “reefs” with field observations of natural reefs and artificial structures. PLoS ONE. 7(5): e38124

Dafforn, K.A., Simpson, S.L., Kelaher, B.P., Clark, G.F., Komyakova, V., Wong, C.K.C., Johnston, E.L. 2012. The challenge of choosing environmental indicators of anthropogenic impacts in estuaries. Environmental Pollution. 163: 207-217.

Sun, M.Y., Dafforn, K.A., Brown, M.V. and Johnston, E.L. 2012. Bacterial communities are sensitive indicators of contaminant stress. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 64: 1029-1038.

McKinley, A.C., Dafforn, K.A., Taylor, M.D. and Johnston, E.L. 2011. High levels of sediment contamination have little influence on estuarine beach fish communities. PLoS ONE. 6(10): e26353

Dafforn, K.A., Lewis, J.A. and Johnston, E.L. 2011. Antifouling strategies: history and regulation, ecological impacts and mitigation. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 62: 453-465.

Dafforn, K.A., Glasby, T.M., and Johnston, E.L. 2009. Links between estuarine condition and spatial distributions of marine invaders. Diversity & Distributions. 15: 807-821.

Piola, R.F., Dafforn, K.A. and Johnston, E.L. 2009. The influence of antifouling practices on marine invasions. Biofouling. 25: 633-644.

Dafforn, K.A., Johnston, E.L. and Glasby, T.M. 2009. Shallow moving structures promote marine invader dominance. Biofouling. 25: 277-287.

Dafforn, K.A., Glasby, T.M., and Johnston, E.L. 2008. Differential effects of tributyltin and copper antifoulants on recruitment of non-indigenous species. Biofouling. 24: 23-33.