Timothy O'Hara

Deputy Head, Marine Sciences

Tim O'Hara in the lab
Tim O'Hara
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria

Dr Timothy O'Hara uses museum collections to answer large-scale questions about the distribution of seafloor animals around the globe. This research includes aspects of biogeography, macroecology, phylogeny, and phylogeography. His taxonomic speciality is the Ophiurodea (brittle-stars), a class of echinoderms that are a dominant component of the seafloor fauna.


Tim's interest in the marine environment started at school when an inspiring science teacher formed a student group to investigate the marine echinoderms of Victoria. After a six-year career as a software developer, Tim began his PhD in 1996 on the spatial distribution of animal communities on rocky reefs across Victoria.

Since becoming a curator at Museum Victoria in 2001, his research has focused on using the vast amounts of data and tissues stored in museum collections to address issues of biodiversity conservation and management. His aim is to quantitatively map seafloor faunas around Australia and surrounding oceans and investigate the biogeographic, evolutionary and ecological processes that contribute to present-day patterns.

Tim has contributed to numerous projects and committees at state, national and international levels, particularly involving the design of marine protected areas, impact of human activities, introduced marine species, and fisheries.

Current activities

NERP Marine Biodiversity Hub

Tim leads Museum Victoria's involvement in the Australian National Environmental Research Program's Marine Biodiversity Hub (2011-2014). He is project leader for "National maps of biodiversity and connectivity", and also a member of the research leadership team and steering committee of the Hub. Museum Victoria will investigate spatial and phylogenetic patterns of seafloor fauna across the Australian marine domain.


Tim is the coordinating of the biogeography working group of INDEEP, an international network of deep-sea scientists. The work program includes developing proposals for international biogeographic research and workshops.

ARC connectivity

Museum Victoria is a partner in an ARC linkage project "Biotic connectivity within the temperate Australian marine protected area network at three levels of biodiversity communities, populations and genes" lead by Graham Edgar of the University of Tasmania. The museum's participation in the project is to investigate patterns of genetic diversity across SE Australia for the crinoids Cenolia and the sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii.

World Register of Marine Species

Tim O'Hara is one of two editors for the Ophiuroidea (brittle-stars) on the World Register of Marine Species (WORMS). This is a complete checklist of all described 2064 species of brittle-star across the planet.

CenSeam, Census of Marine Life Seamount Project

Tim O'Hara was a member of the Data Analysis Working Group of the CenSeam project. This productive committee revised many of the accepted paradigms of seamount ecology, culminating in:

  • A special 2010 edition of the journal Marine Ecology dedicated to seamount research (volume 31, supplementary S1)
  • A scientific review (Clark, M.R. et al. 2010. Annual Review of Marine Science 2: 253-278)
  • A forthcoming book (Consalvey, M. & Clark, M.R (eds) Biological sampling in the deep-sea. Wiley-Blackwell).

The CenSeam Data Analysis Working Group has continued to contribute to United Nations' projects (2010-2011), including the identification of ecologically or biologically significant marine areas in need of protection for the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative (GOBI) and investigations into the fauna of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts on seamounts for the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Fauna of Australia

Tim O'Hara and Maria Byrne (University of Sydney) are the editors for the forthcoming echinoderm volume in the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) book series "Fauna of Australia" due to be published in 2012.

CERF Marine Biodiversity Hub

 Tim O'Hara contributed to the Commonwealth Environmental Research Facility (CERF) Marine Biodiversity Hub (2007-2010), including large scale maps of seafloor assemblages (O'Hara et al. 2011 Current Biology 21: 226-230), bioregionalisation of Australian waters using brittle-stars (O'Hara 2008), various studies into genetic variation of marine species over large scales around Australia, and a report into the management implications of biodiversity research (O'Hara et al. 2011).


This National Heritage Trust funded project conducted one of the largest surveys of intertidal rocky reefs in the world, surveying over 70 sites along the 1100 km Victorian coastline in 2005-2006. This data was used to comprehensively assess the ecological health of these sites using a series of newly developed techniques, including a) comparing of their faunal and floral assemblages, b) investigating the abundance and body size of the intertidal species, c) comparing actual species distributions compared to those predicted from ecological data, and d) measuring of the ecosystem effect of trampling and removal of several keystone species.

The results show that most of the Victorian coastline is in relatively good shape, with animal/plant assemblages of low-moderately trampled or polluted sites being within the range of variation shown at more inaccessible sites. Exceptions include areas along the open coast that are immediately adjacent to sewerage outfalls or heavily trampled areas (paths) near popular beaches, and many sites in bays and inlets that are subject to population pressure, pollution and introduced species.


Kate Naughton (PhD, Genetics Department, University of Melbourne) 2009-current.

Marine glacial refugia of southern Australian echinoderms: Past responses to climate change in the temperate coastal environment.

Jacqueline Pocklington (PhD, Zoology Department, University of Melbourne) 2005-current.

Trudy Costa (PhD, Zoology Department, University of Melbourne) 2005-2008.

Detecting Anthropogenic Disturbance in the Rocky Intertidal: A Study of Rocky Shores in Victoria.

Last updated 21 November 2011