Thomas's scientific interests and work spans three broad thematic areas:
1. Ecological Interfaces
Interfaces are ubiquitous in the biosphere, forming hotspots of material processing, exchanges, biodiversity, and habitat heterogeneity. These interfaces couple ecosystems through the exchange of nutrients, material and organisms. I primarily work on two types of interfaces that represent the single longest interface on the planet – sandy beaches (as boundaries between the oceans and the land), and on interfaces that are sites of important interactions between society and coastal systems: estuaries. My published work and research projects examine both the structural properties of these interfaces and the processes which make them uniquely fascinating locations for ecologists. Important functional aspects which my lab investigates are large hydrodynamic features that link estuaries with the ocean (‘plumes’), the processing of animal carcasses at the land-ocean boundary (‘scavenger ecology’), and the role of carbon exchanges in spatially-coupled food webs (‘trophic linkages’).
2. Deep-Sea Ecology
The deep sea is the single largest biome of the planet, and perhaps the one last true frontier in ocean science. I have a long-standing interest and research stream in deep-sea ecology and conservation, focusing on seamounts (undersea mountains), continental margins, and submarine canyons. Each of these habitats is characterised by under-reported habitat heterogeneity and complexity of the seascape, and harbours highly diverse animal communities. My work has challenged conventional paradigms about elevated endemism and productivity of isolated topographic features, provided spatial data as biological input for conservation planning in the deep sea, and highlights the vulnerability of deep-sea systems to fishing and mining; the mining of the deep seabed has potentially massive environmental implications in coming years, and this aspect of my research (together with broader conservation questions) will gain further momentum.
3. Anthropogenic Threats and Biological Conservation
I strive to be ethically responsible by articulating my research work into society and the broader environment to achieve benefits beyond academia. To this end, a sizeable part of my research concerns questions about the environmental effects of human activities, and the strategies that are most effective in conserving vulnerable and irreplaceable features of the natural environment. There are several themes in this line of research: i.) the development of accurate pollution indicators in estuaries and marine waters (e.g. fish health, isotopes); ii) scientifically robust assessments of the consequences that urbanisation and recreation have for coastal dunes and beaches; iii) improvements to metrics used to gauge environemntal conditions and monitor the effectivness of management interventions; iv) evaulating impacts of bottom-trawling on seafloor communities; v) developing strategies to lower conflicts between humans and wildlife; and iv) the identification of areas of special biological significance on the High Seas. These projects involve international partners (ISA – International Seabed Authority, CBD – Convention on Biological Diversity) and a sizeable network of international collaborators.