A hot future for sharks

Dr Jodie Rummer, marine biologist, James Cook University, Townsville

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Jodie Rummer (Credit: L'Oréal Australia) Dr Jodie Rummer swims with sharks for her research. She is fascinated by fish and their ability to deliver oxygen to their muscles 20 to 50 times more efficiently than we can. Her global research into salmon, mackerel, hagfish, and now sharks explains why fish dominate the oceans, and has given her the opportunity to swim with sharks in the world’s largest shark sanctuary, in French Polynesia.

Her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship will help her predict how sharks and other fish will cope with rapidly changing oceans. Some will be winners, some will be losers as the climate changes. That’s a problem not just for the oceans, but also for the communities that depend on fish for protein.

“Fish have been on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. It’s up to us to ensure they’re here for the next 100 million years,” she says.

Jodie is a marine biologist at James Cook University and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Townsville.

She grew up far from the sea, in Illinois. But she always loved the water, and watching Jacques Cousteau marine science documentaries and the Discovery Channel. When her parents bought her a mask and snorkel she spent hours exploring the backyard swimming pool. So it was perhaps inevitable that she’d go on to a career in marine science. Jodie first went to the University of West Florida, where for her Masters she studied the swim bladder of snapper. It’s an amazing organ that allows many fish to move up and down in the water column without sinking. They rapidly pull oxygen out of their blood to fill the bladder.

Understanding this ‘trick’ led Jodie into a stellar early career research path taking her from Florida to the University of British Columbia, then City University Hong Kong, and now James Cook University in Townsville where she is an Assistant Professor and holds an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award (ARC DECRA). Jodie’s research focus is on understanding how oxygen transport works in fish and how it is affected by stress and their ability to adapt to their habitats. What’s different about their haemoglobin and other aspects of their biochemistry that makes them so efficient at transporting oxygen around their bodies? Jodie believes that this is what had made fish the dominant life in our planet’s oceans.

She has studied mackerel that can swim at high speed for long distances. She’s looked at how salmon swim thousands of kilometres to the river of their birth. And she’s studied hagfish that can live inside dead whale carcases sitting on the ocean floor – a very low oxygen environment.

Fish have been evolutionary winners. But how will they adapt with the rapid changes taking place in the oceans now? “Fish have been on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. It’s up to us to ensure they’re here for the next 100 million years,” Jodie says.

 Video at 1080p and overlay without sound available for download here. 

Jodie and her colleagues have already shown that fish living around the Equator are most at risk because they evolved in a local environment with a narrow range of temperatures. Just two or three degrees increase could affect the long term sustainability of fish that many communities depend on for food.

To get a better understanding of the capacity of fish to adapt, Jodie is working with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef, in Papua New Guinea, and in French Polynesia. In Townsville, she works with epaulette sharks. They live on coral reefs and tidal pools and can cope with severe oxygen depletion, elevated carbon dioxide, and high temperatures. Her L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellowship will enable her to expand her work in the world’s largest shark sanctuary in Moorea, French Polynesia. There she will study sicklefin lemon sharks and black-tip reef sharks which may be less able to adapt to future ocean conditions, as they only come in to coastal lagoons to pup.

“My L’Oréal Fellowship will help me determine the mechanisms these sharks will require to adapt to warming oceans. In the long term, understanding how sharks will respond to future ocean conditions will help us make wise decisions needed to protect and conserve the world’s fish populations in general,” says Jodie.

Jodie’s work has attracted global scientific and media attention. She is also a strong advocate for improving the status of women in science and authored three chapters in a new book, Success Strategies from Women in STEM, A Portable Mentor.


2015 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Jodie Rummer (Credit: L’Oréal Australia)
2015 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Jodie Rummer (Credit: L’Oréal Australia)


2010 PhD (comparative animal physiology), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
2004 Master of Science, University of West Florida
1999 Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of West Florida, USA
1997 Associate of Science (Honours), Lincoln Land College, Illinois, USA

Career highlights, awards, fellowships, grants

2015-2017 ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), Physiological performance of reef fishes under ocean acidification
2015–2016 Chief Investigator, Australian Museum, Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation Fellowship
2015 George A. Bartholomew Award, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
 2015 George A. Bartholomew Award presentation, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting, West Palm Beach, USA
 2014 Invited presentation, TEDx talks, James Cook University, Cairns
 2014 Chief Investigator, Institute for Pacific Coral Reefs Fellowship
 2013 International Research Network Biodiversity of Coral Reefs workshop, Groupement de Recherche International (GDRI), Paris, France
 2013 Australian Academy of Sciences, Japan-Australia marine science workshop, Tokyo, Japan
 2013 Principal Investigator, National Geographic Society grant
 2013 Journal of Experimental Biology and Society for Experimental Biology travel and research awards (also received in 2012 and 2008)
 2013 Invited presentation, Ecofisiologia Centro de Investigação Interdisciplinar Marinha e Ambiental (CIIMAR), Porto, Portugal
 2012 Invited presentation, Society for Experimental Biology, Salzburg, Austria
 2011 Visiting Fellow, National Fisheries College Institute of Sustainable Marine Resources, Papua New Guinea
 2011 Australian Research Council Super Science Fellowship
 2010–2011 Collaboration with Professor DJ Randall, Hong Kong, China
 2008 Invited presentation, Young Scientist of the Year Award Symposium, Marseille, France
 2007–2008 Visiting Research Fellow, with Professor M Berenbrink, University of Liverpool, UK


Top five publications

Rummer JL, McKenzie DJ, Innocenti A, Supuran CT, Brauner CJ (2013) Root effect haemoglobin may have evolved to enhance general oxygen delivery, Science 340: 1327–1329. (Impact factor 31.480, 26 citations)

Rummer JL, Couturier CS, Stecyk JAW, Gardiner NM, Kinch JP, Nilsson GE, Munday PL (2014) Life on the edge: Thermal optima for aerobic scope of equatorial reef fishes are close to current day temperatures, Global Change Biology 20: 1055–1066. (Impact factor 8.224, 11 citations)

Rummer JL, Brauner CJ (2011) Plasma-accessible carbonic anhydrase at the tissue of a teleost fish may greatly enhance oxygen delivery: in vitro evidence in rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 2319–2328. (Impact factor 3.00, 13 citations)

Munday PL, Cheal A, Dixson DL, Rummer JL, Fabricius K (2014) Behavioural impairment in reef fishes caused by ocean acidification at CO2 seeps, Nature Climate Change 4: 487–492. (Impact factor 15.295, 14 citations)

Rummer JL, Isom LL Communicating Science. Chapter 6. In Pritchard, P. & Grant, C. (eds.), Success Strategies from Women in STEM: A Portable Mentor, 2nd edition. Elsevier.