James Bell

Prof James Bell profile picture

Sponge Ecology School of Biological Sciences

Personal bio

PhD University College Cork | BSc (Hons) University of Wales

I am a marine ecologist with a broad range of interests in marine organisms and systems. My early interest in marine biology was driven by my love of the oceans as I grew up in Devon.

I studied for my primary undergraduate degree in Marine Biology (BSc hons first class) at the University of Wales, Bangor in North Wales. It was here I developed my interest in sponges and marine reserves during a research expedition as part of my degree to Lough Hyne Marine Nature Reserve in Southern Ireland.

After completing my BSc, I returned to Ireland and Lough Hyne to complete my PhD at University College Cork under the supervision of Dr David Barnes (now at the British Antarctic Society). My PhD focused on the unusual sponge assemblages in Lough Hyne and I continue to be intrigued by this important group of marine invertebrates.

After completing my PhD in 2001, I took up a temporary lectureship in marine biology at Glamorgan University in South Wales, and after a year took up another temporary lectureship post at Reading University. During my time at Reading I became increasingly interested in the application of molecular tools to marine ecology and worked in Prof Beth Okamura’s lab (now at the Natural History Museum in London) where I learned a range of molecular techniques. I also met my now good friend Dr David Smith (University of Essex), who invited me to travel to Indonesia to work on the tropical sponge assemblages of the Wakatobi region.

After a year at Reading I moved back to Wales to take up my first permanent lectureship at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where I spent three years. From there I took up my current post in June 2006, as a Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology and director of the Master of Marine Conservation programme at Victoria University of Wellington. I was promoted to Associate Professor in Marine Biology 2014.

My work is still focused on the ecology of sponges, along with marine reserve ecology and broader marine management issues. I continue to work in Indonesia and other tropical locations, but still maintain a strong temperate component to my work.

Research interests

My research supports the management and conservation of tropical and temperate marine ecosystems.

Sponge research

Sponges are critical components of benthic communities and have important roles in ecosystem function. While I am interested in all aspects of sponge ecology, my current research on sponges is primarily focused on environmental impacts, conservation, evolutionary processes and patterns of biodiversity. Fieldwork in this research theme is being conducted at many locations across the globe. Active research areas include:

- Climate change and ocean acidification impacts on sponges

- Impacts of environmental degradation on sponges

- Factors influencing local, regional and global patterns of sponge biodiversity

- Functional ecology

- Monitoring

Visit the Sponge Ecology research group


Biggerstaff, A., Smith D.J., Jompa, J., Bell, J.J. (in press). Metabolic responses of a phototrophic sponge to sedimentation supports transitions to sponge-dominated reefs. Scientific Reports.

Bell, J. J., Biggerstaff, A., Bates, T., Bennett, H., Marlow, J., McGrath, E., & Shaffer, M. (2017). Sponge monitoring: Moving beyond diversity and abundance measures. Ecological Indicators, 78, 470-488.

Astudillo‐Garcia, C., Bell, J. J., Webster, N. S., Glasl, B., Jompa, J., Montoya, J. M., & Taylor, M. W. (2017). Evaluating the core microbiota in complex communities: A systematic investigation. Environmental Microbiology. In press

Villacorta-Rath, C., Ilyushkina, I., Strugnell, J. M., Green, B. S., Murphy, N. P., Doyle, S. R., & Bell, J. J. (2016). Outlier SNPs enable food traceability of the southern rock lobster, Jasus edwardsii. Marine Biology, 163(11), 223.

Bennett, H. M., Altenrath, C., Woods, L., Davy, S. K., Webster, N. S., & Bell, J. J. (2016). Interactive effects of temperature and pCO2 on sponges: from the cradle to the grave. Global Change Biology. In press

Bell, J. J., McGrath, E., Biggerstaff, A., Bates, T., Bennett, H., Marlow, J., & Shaffer, M. (2015). Sediment impacts on marine sponges. Marine Pollution Bulletin 94:5-13.

Bell, J. J., McGrath, E., Biggerstaff, A., Bates, T., Cárdenas, C. A., & Bennett, H. (2015). Global conservation status of sponges. Conservation Biology, 29(1), 42.

View more publications at Researchgate