Christopher Cornwall

Dr Christopher Cornwall profile picture

Rutherford Discovery Fellow


Teaching in 2020

Personal Bio

PhD University of Otago, NZ | MSc Victoria University of Wellington, NZ

I am originally from New Zealand, and as a youth I spent a large portion of time around the sea fishing, snorkeling and spearfishing. This passion for New Zealand’s rocky reefs drives a large amount of my research focus. I completed a MSc at Victoria University of Wellington in 2007. I commenced a PhD at the Department of Botany at the University of Otago in 2010, examining the capacity of seaweed to act as a refuge for ocean acidification for calcifying species. In 2013 I took up a Research Fellow position at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Tasmania, furthering this work. I then worked as a Lecturer at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies University of Western Australia node at the School of Earth Science and UWA’s Oceans Institute and Oceans Graduate School examining the calcification mechanisms in coralline algae. I have returned to Victoria University of Wellington after 11 years away, starting a 5-year Rutherford Discovery Fellowship funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to start my own group at SBS focusing on New Zealand’s iconic kelp forest ecosystems.

Research Interests

My Royal society funded research focuses on New Zealand’s iconic kelp forest communities. Side research funded by the Australian Research Council focuses on coral reefs, while I also work with colleagues in the Mediterranean coralligenous systems.

Kelp forest response to climate change

Kelp forests provide billions of dollars annually to the world’s economy, and despite providing more value on a per km basis than coral reef ecosystems, their responses to climate change are comparatively understudied. My core research focuses on how key foundation species within kelp forests (kelp and coralline algae) respond to local and global anthropogenic drivers, such as changes in means and variability in light, oxygen, pH and temperature. This work focuses on using organism physiology to explain ecological change where possible, by using a combination of cutting-edge laboratory, field and modelling/quantitative techniques.


Coralline algae are the cement that glue together both temperate and coral reefs, and act as required settlement substrates for coral, sea urchins (kina) and abalone (pāua). My research combines physiological, genetic and geochemical tools to determine how and why coralline algal calcification is influenced by ocean acidification and other anthropogenic drivers. Where possible this works extends to inform on the calcification of similar species such as corals and other macroalgae. I have recently been assessing how tolerance to ocean acidification can increase over multiple generations of exposure in coralline algae.

Multiple stressors and experimental design

I attempt to improve research design and implementation using some of the information gained over the >40 laboratory manipulation experiments I have conducted personally. Current theoretical and practical work involves improving trade-offs between logistics and power in multiple generation experiments, and employing elegant designs to test future scenarios of change in marine species.

Prospective postgraduate students should email me if these research topics overlap with their interests.


Cornwall, C.E.,Comeau, S., DeCarlo, T.M., Moore, B., D’Alexis, Q, McCulloch, M.T. 2018. Resistance to ocean acidification in corals and coralline algae under natural pH variability. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 20181168. Doi:

Comeau, S.,Cornwall, C.E., DeCarlo, T.M., Krieger, E., McCulloch, M.T. 2018. Similar controls on calcification under ocean acidification across unrelated coral reef taxa. Global Change Biology. 10.1111/gcb.14379.

Cornwall, C.E., Comeau, S., McCulloch, M.T. 2017. Coralline algae elevate pH at the site of calcification under ocean acidification. Global Change Biology. DOI 10.1111/gcb.13673.

Cornwall, C.E., Revill, A.T., Hall-Spencer, J., Milazzo, M., Raven, J.A., Hurd, C.L. 2017. Physiology underpins macroalgal responses to ocean acidification. Scientific Reports. 7:46297 | DOI: 10.1038/srep46297.

Cornwall, C.E., Hurd, C.L. 2015. Experimental design in ocean acidification research: problems and solutions. ICES Journal of Marine Science. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv118. Focus of a ‘highlight’ article in Nature. (

More publications on Research Gate and Google Scholar.


Teaching in 2020