Francesca Benzoni, Ph.D.


Associate Center Director | Associate Professor of Marine Science

Research Interests

​Dr. Francesca Benzoni is an Associate Professor of Marine Science in the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC). Prof. Benzoni is a marine biologist and her research has focused on the evolution, diversity and ecology of corals and coral-dominated assemblages in the Indo-Pacific region, with a strong focus on the seas around Arabia.

Prof. Benzoni has contributed to major advances in the field of hard corals integrated systematics and biogeography through a multidisciplinary approach. Her work has led to the discovery and description of new coral taxa and to the revision of the whole lineage. Concurrently, she has studied the short and mid-term effects of local and global environmental changes on the composition and structure of coral dominated benthic communities.

Prof. Benzoni has organised several international oceanographic expeditions and workshops aiming at the exploration and study of coral reef diversity throughout the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, she has led training activities in various countries to promote and sustain the knowledge transfer to local communities and stakeholders. As a consultant, she has led or been involved in different coral reef monitoring and habitat mapping studies in the Arabian region.

At KAUST, her fundamental research addresses the diversity, characterization and evolution of benthic marine organisms and habitats. Her applied research questions concern the patterns of spatial and temporal changes reef benthos diversity and distribution in a time of environmental change in the Red Sea.

Selected Publications

  • Uncovering hidden coral diversity: A new cryptic lobophylliid scleractinian from the Indian Ocean 
    R.Arrigoni, M.L.Berumen, J.Stolarski, T.I.Terraneo, F. Benzoni
    Cladistics, 35:301-328, (2019)
  • Environmental latitudinal gradients and host specificity shape Symbiodiniaceae distribution in Red Sea Porites cora... 
    T.I.Terraneo, M. Fusi, B. Hume, R. Arrigoni, C. Voolstra, F. Benzoni, Z. Forsman, M.L. Ber...
    Journal of Biogeography, (2019)
  • Coral responses to a repeat bleaching event in Mayotte in 2010 
    Obura D.O., Bigot L., Benzoni F.
    PeerJ, 6:e5305, (2018)
  • Seabirds supply nitrogen to reef-building corals on remote Pacific islets 
    A. Lorrain, F. Houlbrèque, F. Benzoni, L. Barjon, L. Tremblay-Boyer, C. Menkes, D.P. Gilli...
    Scientific Reports, 7: 3721, (2017)
  • Species delimitation in the reef coral genera Echinophyllia and Oxypora (Scleractinia, Lobophylliidae) with a descr... 
    R. Arrigoni, M.L. Berumen, C.A. Chen, T.I. Terraneo, A.H. Baird, C. Payri, F. Benzoni
    Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 105: 146-159, (2016)
  • Forgotten in the taxonomic literature: resurrection of the scleractinian coral genus Sclerophyllia (Scleractinia, L... 
    R. Arrigoni, M.L. Berumen, T.I. Terraneo, A. Caragnano, J. Bouwmeester, F. Benzoni
    Systematics and Biodiversity, 13: 140-163, (2015)
  • The Persian/Arabian Gulf: a young sea in decline, threats and optimistic developments 
    C.R.C. Sheppard, ... , F. Benzoni, ...
    Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60:13-38, (2010)
  • The name game: morpho-molecular species boundaries in the genus Psammocora (Cnidaria, Scleractinia) 
    F. Benzoni, F. Stefani, M. Pichon, P. Galli
    Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 160: 421-456, (2010)
  • Efficient coral reef conservation planning in Pacific Ocean Islands using habitats as surrogates of biodiversity 
    M. Dalleau, S. Andréfouët, C. Wabnitz, C. Payri, L. Wantiez, M. Pichon, K. Friedman, L. Vi...
    Conservation Biology, 24: 541-552, (2010)
  • Coral communities of the North-western Gulf of Aden (Yemen): variation in framework building related to environment... 
    F. Benzoni, C.N. Bianchi, C. Morri
    Coral Reefs, 22: 475-484 , (2003)


  • Ph.D., Life and Earth Sciences, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Perpignan, France, 2007
  • M.Sc, Biological Sciences, University of Insubria, Varese, Italy, 1999

Professional Profile

  • ​2020- current: Associate Professor of Marine Science, KAUST, Saudi Arabia
  • 2016-2018: Visiting Scientist, UMR Entropie, French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development, New Caledonia
  • 2011-2019: Assistant Professor, BtBs, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy
  • 2011: Research Scientist, CoReUs2, French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development, France
  • 2008-2010: Postdoctoral fellow, BtBs, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy

Scientific and Professional Membership

  • International Coral Reef Society (ICRS)
  • International Biogeography Society (IBS)

KAUST Affiliations

  • ​Red Sea Research Center (RSRC)
  • Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division (BESE)

Research Interests Keywords

Biodiversity Coral reef ecology Marine Habitat Mapping Biogeography Climate Change Coastal Conservation Bioconstruction Taxonomy