I have broad interests in the ecology and early life history of marine fishes, as well as the potential for ectotherms to cope with future climate change. Much of my research to date has focused on the ecological impacts of climate change to marine fishes and the potential for species to acclimate to the predicted environmental changes. To tackle these questions, I use state of the art environmentally controlled research aquariums systems that simulate future conditions.   

My research concentrates on understanding phenotypic plasticity and parental effects. Much of my work has focused on exploring the importance and prevalence of developmental plasticity, when fish experience warmer conditions in the first months of life, as well as the potential for plasticity across generations. More recently my focus has shifted to understand when previous generations (parents and grandparents) need to experience warming to result in phenotypic changes in the current generation. I am also interested in the role that behavioural plasticity and thermoregulation could play in the response of more mobile reef fish to ocean acidification and warming.


  • MB3200: Marine Conservation Biology (Level 3; TSV)
  • MB5004: Marine Conservation Biology (Level 5; TSV)
  • SC3008: Professional Placement (Level 3; TSV & CNS)
  • SC5008: Professional Placement (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • Impacts of climate and environmental change on marine fishes
  • Acclimation and adaptation
  • Developmental plasticity
  • Transgenerational plasticity
  • Parental effects
  • Thermal ecology and evolution
  • Fish ecology
  • Fish reproductive biology
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2021 - Emerging Leader in Marine Science Award, Australian Marine Sciences Association
  • 2017 - Australian Society of Fish Biology Early Career Excellence Award
  • 2016 - Australian Institute of Policy and Science Young Tally Poppy of Queensland Science Award
  • 2013 - Virginia Chadwick Award for Excellence in Scientific Publishing
  • 2012 - Winston Churchill Fellowship: Dr Dorothea Sanders and Irene Lee
  • 2011 - Virginia Chadwick Award for Excellence in Scientific Publishing
  • 2013 to 2016 - Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney
  • 2008 to 2011 - CSIRO Marine Climate Impact and Adaptation Flagship Student Fellowship

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles
Book Chapters

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 67+ research outputs authored by A/Prof Jennifer Donelson from 2008 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Sex is important in adaptation to environmental change

Indicative Funding
$353,681 over 3 years
Plasticity is often hailed as the saviour for species in the face of rapid climate change but there is an ongoing debate of whether plasticity will be adaptive in nature. This research will generate significant knowledge using novel cross-generational experiments on the potential for plasticity to be adaptive with sexual selection and by determining how phenotypic change transfers across generations by establishing genomic mechanisms. Expected outcomes include an improved evidence base of the capacity for adaptation that will inform the management of fish and fisheries under environmental change. This will provide significant benefits to Australian and international communities that rely on fish for nutrition, economic and social values.
Jennifer Donelson (College of Science & Engineering)
Plasticity; Fish; Warming; Adaptation; Genomics; Climate changes

Ecological Society of Australia - Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment

Incorporating evolutionary perspectives into conservation: An assessment of local adaptation, developmental plasticity, and genetic differentiation in a reef fish (Acanthochromis polyacanthus)

Indicative Funding
$7,500 over 1 year
Many marine species are predicted to experience population declines with ocean warming, however, not all populations are expected to have the same sensitivity. Intraspecific differences in developmental plasticity in response to thermal tolerance is expected to allow some populations to respond to ocean warming more readily than others. Furthermore, thermal sensitivity may follow a pattern predicted by historical experience of thermal variation and range across latitudinal gradients. By identifying and exploring populations that are thermally tolerant, as well as the underlying evolutionary, and physiological mechanisms, it will allow for the integration of evolutionary perspectives into conservation management plans to achieving more effective outcomes.
Elliott Schmidt, Jennifer Donelson and Gergely Torda (College of Science & Engineering)
Local Adaption; Climate Change; Immunity; Coral Reef Fish; Ocean Warming; Thermal Performance

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Future Fellowships

Phenotypic and adaptive responses to environmental change

Indicative Funding
$710,470 over 4 years
Projecting the response of species to future environmental change is essential for appropriate human management and conservation strategies. However, we currently lack knowledge on whether populations differ in their capacity to respond to climate change. This project will explore the capacity for various populations of reef fish to acclimate and adapt to ocean warming across generations and between populations. This project will also explore whether short term heatwave experience results in any adaptive benefits.
Jennifer Donelson (Research Division)
acclimation; Adaptation; Fish; Plasticity; Pomacentridae

Australian Society for Fish Biology - Michael Hall Student Innovation Award

Incorporating evolutionary perspective into conservation: An assessment of local adaptation across the range of a coral reef fish

Indicative Funding
$1,000 over 1 year
The aims of this research project are to gain an increased understanding of how different populations across the species? range of Acanthochromis polyacanthus will respond to ocean warming. Specifically, I will 1) determine the levels of local adaptation across three different regions within the species range to reveal the thermal performance landscape, and 2) identify cellular mechanisms that underlie adaptive difference between populations. This research will allow identification of populations and/or reef regions that have increased adaptive ability and could be potential targets for conservation action.
Elliott Schmidt, Jennifer Donelson and Gergely Torda (Research Division)
Local adaptation; Coral reef fish; Climate Change; Ocean warming; Enzymes; Thermal performance

Ecological Society of Australia - Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment

Incorporating evolutionary perspective into wildlife conservation: An assessment of local adaptation, genetic differentiation, and heritability in a reef fish (Acanthaochromis polyacanthus)

Indicative Funding
$6,695 over 2 years
For many sedentary organisms with low dispersal ability, response to climate change depends on their capacity for local adaptation and phenotypic plasticity to maintain populations in changing environmental conditions. These evolutionary processes may vary across populations, resulting in uneven responses to changes within a species? range. To understand a species? evolutionary trajectory under climate change it is important to quantify the magnitude of local adaptation, genetic differentiation, heritability, and phenotypic plasticity in populations throughout its range. This project aims to understand how these evolutionary processes vary across a latitudinal gradient in a reef fish (spiny chromis damselfish; Acanthochromis polyacanthus).
Elliott Schmidt, Jennifer Donelson and Gergely Torda (Research Division)
Acclimation; Phenotypic plasticity; Climate change; Adaptation; Ocean warming

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Thermal Plasticity of Natural versus Sexually selected Traits (Masters , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • Incorporating evolutionary perspectives into conservation: an assessment of local adaptation, phenotypic plasticity, and interpopuation hybridization in a reef fish (Acanthochromis ployacanthus) (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • The effects of marine heatwaves on phenotypic and adaptive outcomes in a marine fish (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • The interplay between behavioural Plasticity and Ecophysiology of Coral Reef Fish to environmental change (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • The evolutionary, environmental, and social drivers of pair bonding in coral reef rabbitfishes (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)

These are the most recent metadata records associated with this researcher. To see a detailed description of all dataset records, visit Research Data Australia.


The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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