12 September 2001

Dr Justin Marshall is studying how animals such as reef fish, parrots such as budgerigars, and even poison arrow frogs use colour for communication.

Dr Marshall has been honoured with an $80,000 UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award.

Earlier this year Dr Marshall was also awarded the prestigious L'Oreal Art & Science of Color Prize of 30,000 Euros (approximately A$50,000) at a ceremony at the Musee National des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

An international jury of artists and scientists selected winners whose work demonstrated a creative dialogue between art, science and colour, the Grand Prize was awarded to Dr Marshall for his research on colour vision and colour communication in reef fish.

Dr Marshall, a QEII Postdoctoral Fellow in the Vision, Touch and Hearing Research Centre at UQ, has built underwater devices that replicate the way fish's eyes view colours and is now beginning to see the reef the way a fish would see it.

He is developing techniques to get a fish's eye view of the health of the Great Barrier Reef and its corals.

'Whereas human eyes only have receptors for three colours - red, green and blue - some marine dwellers have up to 12 different colour receptors. Many fish see ultraviolet light and other colours not visible to humans,' said Dr Marshall.

Dr Marshall's ongoing research has been rewarded with the grant of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Senior Research Fellowship for the next five years and an ARC Large Grant worth $185,000 over three years.

Dr Marshall's investigations show how fish and coral communicate and signal with colours outside the range visible to humans.

'By analysing these colours, we can get an idea of what coral and fish are ?saying' and how well marine life is withstanding the extreme pressures being placed on them by the warming of oceans,' said Dr Marshall.

Dr Marshall's research interests include colour vision in the marine environment; communications between cleaner fish and their hosts - the role of colour; and colour communication in parrots and birds of paradise.

A science graduate with honours in zoology from the University of St Andrews (Scotland), Dr Marshall in 1991 completed a Doctoral of Philosophy in Neurobiology at the University of Sussex, researching vision in mantis shrimps.

His interests include sports, diving, photography, hill walking, climbing and pot-holing, paragliding, windsurfing and sailing.

Media: For more details about the research of the nine winners contact Peter McCutcheon (07 3365 1088 or 0413 380012) or Jan King (07 3365 1120 or 0413 601 248)