Michele L Barnes, Associate Professor (CV)

I am an Associate Professor in the College of Arts, Society, and Education at James Cook University. My research draws on theories and methods from sociology, complex systems science, and related disciplines to contribute a better understanding of human behaviour and the linkages between people and nature that underpin complex environmental problems. I have specialised expertise in social network science, and I apply this expertise to climate change adaptation and other sustainability challenges, while also making key disciplinary contributions.

I grew up in California exploring my ancestral lands with my three sisters along the Monterey Bay coastline, and have always had a deep connection with the oceans and a passion for supporting communities who value and depend on it. I undertook my postgraduate studies at the University of Hawaii in an interdisciplinary department focused on environmental problem solving. My PhD dissertation blended social network science, sociology, psychology, and economics to shed light on the social behaviour of resource users in a complex ‘social-ecological system’ comprised of both people and nature. After obtaining my PhD in 2015, I was awarded a U.S. National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to develop and apply an integrative social-ecological network modelling framework to capture complex linkages between people and nature in coral reef ecosystems (2015 – 2018; ~AUD $208,500). I executed this project as a visiting fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia. In 2018, I was awarded an early career research fellowship (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council to study how social networks and power shape adaptive and transformative responses to climate change (2019 – 2022; AUD $370,000). In 2021 I won the Paul Bourke Award from the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia for my research on social networks and the environment.

I am deeply interested in contributing actionable insights to support just climate adaptation and transformation, and am obsessed with all things related to social networks. I am currently the President of the Australian Network for Social Network Analysis and serve on the board of the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA). In 2022 I served on the organising committee for the INSNA Sunbelt Conference, where I lead the development of a Special Theme focused on Social Networks, Disaster Recovery, and Environmental Governance in the Context of Climate Change. I was a member of the Expert Working Group that developed a National Strategy for Just Adaptation in Australia (with Future Earth Australia and the Australian Academy of Sciences). I also co-founded the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in 2020, and served as co-chair of this committee until the end of the centre in 2023. I am an editor of Ecology and Society and have served as a guest editor for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When I am not at work, I am usually spending time with my two young boys and partner. Our main activities include dance parties, building sand castles and forts, swimming, surfing, learning about sea creatures and climate change, and having as much fun as possible exploring the world around us.

Lab Members

Ma Victoria Stephane Asio (PhD student)

Steph is a PhD student from the Philippines with a background in development communication, community development, and extension education in the context of agriculture, fisheries, and natural resources. Her professional experiences have been in research and development programs centered on capacity-building, stakeholder engagement, and outcome and performance assessment. She has conducted studies related to the use of information and communication technologies in a flood-prone area and local knowledge management in community resilience. Her PhD research focuses on understanding adaptation strategies and responses to COVID-19 and climate change in coastal communities.

Amber Datta (PhD candidate)

Amber grew up in Hawai’i with a passion for the ocean and the communities that depend on it. Her PhD focuses on governance of the Great Barrier Reef after mass coral bleaching. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Analysis (Biology focus) from Pomona College and an M.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana (UM). She also completed a certificate in Natural Resource Conflict Resolution at UM. Amber is a cotutelle PhD student at JCU and UM. She hopes her work will contribute to our understanding of how to improve governance of rapidly changing coral reefs.

Henry Bartelet (PhD candidate)

Henry is a doctoral candidate at James Cook University in Australia, where he works, under the supervision of Graeme Cumming and Michele Barnes, on quantifying the socio-economic resilience of the Great Barrier Reef region and other Pacific communities that are economically dependent on coral reefs. He holds a Bachelor in Economics and a Joint European Master Degree in System Dynamics. After his master degree, Henry worked for two years as an energy system modeler at DNV in Norway, in a research program to forecast the energy transition towards 2050.

Lucy Homes McHugh (PhD Candidate)

Lucy is an interdisciplinary social scientist, specialising in sustainability, public policy, governance, and climate change. Her PhD research seeks to understand how social systems navigate climate risk and crisis across scales, with a focus on UNESCO’s World Heritage system and the Great Barrier Reef. She previously worked at the Centre for International Forestry Research in Indonesia in science communications. She has a Master’s in Development Practice and a Master’s in Public Policy. She is currently residing in the USA at the University of Michigan on a Fulbright scholarship.

Sarah Sutcliffe (PhD candidate)

Sarah is a PhD candidate at James Cook University, previously the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. She has a BSc. Hons in Advanced Marine Biology. Her research primarily focuses on improving food security, livelihoods and wellbeing in small-scale fishing communities in the face of social and environmental shocks, including COVID-19 and climate change. Her research is interdisciplinary: she works closely with both social and natural scientists, drawing on food systems theory, social network analysis and adaptation theory.

Luisa Bedoya Taborda (MPhil candidate)

Luisa is from Colombia, South America where she completed her undergraduate degree in law. For her undergraduate thesis, Luisa studied the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP armed group signed in 2016 and its impact on rural reform and food security. After finishing her undergraduate degree, Luisa worked with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense in the Marine Biodiversity and Coastal Protection Program where she studied national and international regulations related to coral reef conservation, plastic pollution, and sustainable fishing. Luisa completed a Postgraduate Diploma in environmental law and worked in the Special Administrative Unit for the Return of Stripped Lands where she represented victims of armed conflict. In 2022, Luisa moved to Australia, where she is studying a Master of Philosophy at James Cook University to understand how to build adaptive capacities for communities experiencing violent conflict or post-conflict communities.

Previous Lab Members

Emmanuel Mbaru (PhD)

Dr. Mbaru obtained his PhD in Marine Science from James Cook University, Australia in 2019. His research focused on the difussion of gated traps, a conservation technology, through networks of coastal fishers in Kenya, and the impacts of this technology innovation on both people (wellbeing) and ecosystems (fisheries functional diversity). Dr. Mbaru now works as a senior scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and holds an AXA Postdoctoral research fellowship based at Lancaster University in the UK. He focuses on interdisciplinary research topics that examine the vulnerability of coastal communities and ecosystems to environmental change. His current interests are embedded in the emerging concepts in network science and fisheries ecology to better understand how and why conservation goes to scale.

Francis Commercon (Fulbright Scholar)

Francis joined the Social Dynamics and the Environment Lab while working as a Fulbright student researcher at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens. His research examined social network predictors of wild meat consumption in southwest China. Specifically, he was interested in how social sharing of wild meat shaped behaviors, attitudes, and norms about wildlife consumption. Subsequently as a Masters student at Yale School of the Environment, his research examined environmental knowledge making and policy outcomes for migratory shorebirds in the East Asian Australasian Flyway. He is passionate about the social processes that construct how people know about and conserve resilient socio-ecological systems.

Diego Salgueiro Otero (Visiting Fellow)

As a marine interdisciplinary scientist with research experience in MPAs and Ocean Health Index operationalisation, Diego obtained his PhD in Small-scale fisheries (SSF) adaptation to climate change  (University of Vigo, 2022).  Developing theoretical, conceptual, and empirical work applying a network perspective, his doctoral research (1) operationalised SSF frameworks worldwide, (2) introduced a novel Adaptation Framework for marine social-ecological systems, and (3) identified drivers and constraints of SSF resilience. Interested in social-ecological justice, Diego’s work focuses on the intersection between SSF communities, science and policy, and producing bottom-up climate change adaptation while lifting the voices of coastal communities.

Prospective Students and Post-Docs

If you are interested in climate adaptation or transformation, social networks and the environment, social-ecological dynamics, or any combination of the above, we would love for you to join us! The first step is to get in touch by emailing me a CV and short statement of research interests (<1 page).