Casey Benkwitt Ph.D.

Lancaster University


My research in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) examines how natural nutrients from seabird’s guano influence coral reefs.

Seabirds feed in the open ocean and return to islands to nest, where their guano provides nutrients to terrestrial and coastal environments. On coral reefs, this supplementary source of natural nutrient can enhance the productivity and functioning of reef fishes. Unfortunately, the presence of invasive rats on oceanic islands, including some within BIOT, has decimated seabird populations and disrupted this flow of nutrients. At the same time, coral reefs are facing unprecedented man-made pressures, with mass coral bleaching events caused by climate change being one of the largest.

Therefore, much of my current work focusses on how seabird nutrients affect coral reefs following bleaching events.  Specifically, I am testing whether seabird nutrients can boost the resistance and/or recovery of coral-reef communities to coral bleaching events via a variety of mechanisms.

In addition, I am examining how invasive rats and climate change interact and impact the diversity and functioning of coral-reef fishes. Given that management actions to remove invasive rats to  restore seabird populations are relatively easy to achieve, I am also investigating the temporal and spatial scales over which rat eradication benefits coral reefs.

Coral reefs are one of the most amazing ecosystems on the planet, yet there is still so much that we don’t understand about them. For example, I never thought seabird poop would be so beneficial to coral reefs!

Casey Benkwitt


2018 Present
Post-doctoral Researcher, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
2017 2018
Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Biology, California State University, Northridge
2010 2016
Ph.D. Student/NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Department of Zoology, Oregon State University
2008 2009
Fisheries Biologist, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA
2004 2008
B.A., Environmental Studies and Sociology, Bowdoin College

My Project

  • Coral Reef Resilience
    Coral Reef Fish in the British Indian Ocean Territory

Other interests

I am broadly interested in the behavioural, population, and community ecology of coral-reef fishes, with a focus on how human activities impact these processes.

My Publications