Michael Berumen, Ph.D.


Center Director | Director of Saudi Aramco-KAUST Marine Environmental Research Center | Professor of Marine Science ​

Research Interests

Michael Berumen is a professor of marine science and the director of the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC). As a coral reef biologist, he is interested in all facets of ecology. Berumen's particular research interests focus on larval connectivity and dispersal of reef fishes, movement ecology of reef organisms, and the biodiversity and evolutionary biology of Red Sea fauna. He has also authored more than 200 journal articles and is co-editor of two books. In addition to his work in the Red Sea, he is a regular participant in global coral reef research expeditions in French Polynesia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea, among others.

Before joining KAUST in 2009, Berumen obtained his B.S. (summa cum laude) in zoology at the University of Arkansas, U.S., and earned his doctoral degree in marine biology from James Cook University, Australia. It was during his time working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) that he first became aware of KAUST and its research thrusts in marine science. It was in late 2008, when KAUST started to take shape, that Berumen had his first interactions with the newly-conceived university.

"I had been working at WHOI as a postdoc when the idea for KAUST was announced. At the time, KAUST created global partnerships with institutions that would be good partners for areas of work in which KAUST planned to specialize. WHOI was the partner selected for marine science."

"Initially, I was excited to have the chance to explore coral reefs in the region. It was an exciting period because there was so little published information available about Red Sea reefs, and we really felt like we were exploring uncharted areas," Berumen added.

Outside of his busy workload as director of the RSRC, Berumen is also the principal investigator for the KAUST Reef Ecology Lab—a group dedicated to addressing numerous aspects of coral reef ecology.

"We are interested in biodiversity, and why certain species occur in certain places. We can also ask exciting questions about why so many Red Sea species are not found anywhere else in the world. Why have they evolved here and how have they adapted specifically to the Red Sea conditions?" Berumen sees a connection between these questions and his other interests in the movements of animals. "These are questions about movement at an evolutionary scale."

As director of the RSRC, Berumen hopes that the center continues to excel in many aspects of marine science. He sees particular promise in the fields of evolutionary biology and coral reef research. The latter plays an important role in helping the kingdom expand its vision of eco-tourism in the region.

"Saudi Arabia is in the middle of a major transformation with huge plans to build its profile for tourism, with a particular emphasis on ecotourism. I think this is a natural direction for the Kingdom because there are large numbers of people around the world who would love to come to see the reefs of the Red Sea. With an increase in tourism, you must have a basis from which to manage the resource correctly. The RSRC is well-positioned to provide the scientific basis for these decisions."

Berumen is enthusiastic about the future of the RSRC and believes that it is an exciting time for research in Saudi Arabia—thanks, in part, to the scale and ambition of the developments and changes that are ongoing in the kingdom.

"I think our center is equipped to help with many questions that the kingdom will have about how to make progress and development while simultaneously protecting the very thing that could help attract people – the Red Sea is one of Saudi Arabia's most valuable natural resources. It's an exciting time for the kingdom to take renewed interest in our work and to openly engage with us. That, to me, feels like we're making a difference," Berumen concluded.

Selected Publications

  • Prokaryote Communities Inhabiting Endemic and Newly Discovered Sponges and Octocorals from the Red Sea 
    D. F. R Cleary, A.R.M. Polónia, B.T. Reijnen, M. L. Berumen, N. J. de Voogd
    Microbial Ecology, pp 1-17, (2020)
  • Beyond the visual: using metabarcoding to characterize the hidden reef cryptobiome 
    S. Carvalho, E. Aylagas, R. Villalobos, Y. Kattan, M. Berumen and J.K. Pearman
    Proc. R. Soc. B 286: 20182697, (2019)
  • Comparison of cryptobenthic reef fish communities among microhabitats in the Red Sea 
    E.M. Troyer, D.J. Coker and M.L. Berumen
    PeerJ, (2018)
  • Calcinea of the Red Sea: providing a DNA barcode inventory with description of four new species 
    O. Voigt, D. Erpenbeck, Rául A. González-Pech, Ali M. Al-Aidaroos, M.L. Berumen, G. Wörhei...
    Marine Biodiversity, pp. 1-26, (2017)
  • The status of coral reef ecology research in the Red Sea 
    M.L. Berumen, A.S. Hoey, W.H. Bass, J. Bouwmeester, D. Catania, J.E.M. Cochran, M.T. Khali...
    Coral Reefs, pp. 1-12, (2013)
  • Dispersal of grouper larvae drives local resource sharing in a coral reef fishery 
    G. Almany, R. Hamilton, M. Matawai, M. Bode, T. Potuku, P. Saenz-Agudelo, S. Planes, M. Be...
    Current Biology, 23, pp. 626-630, (2013)
  • Linking habitat mosaics and connectivity in a coral reef seascape 
    K.W. McMahon, M.L. Berumen, S.R. Thorrold
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, volume 35, issue 6, 566-576, (2012)
  • Persistence of self-recruitment and patterns of larval connectivity in a marine protected area network 
    M. Berumen, G. Almany, S. Planes, G. Jones, P. Saenz-Agudelo, S. Thorrold
    Ecology and Evolution, (2012)
  • Local replenishment of coral reef fish populations in a marine reserve 
    Almany, G, M Berumen, S Thorrold, S Planes, & G Jones
    Science 316: 742-744, (2007)
  • Recovery without resilience: Persistent disturbance and long-term shifts in the structure of fish and coral communi... 
    Berumen, M & M Pratchett
    Coral Reefs 25: 647-653, (2006)


  • ​Ph.D., Marine Biology, James Cook University, Australia, 2007. 
  • B.S. (summa cum laude), Zoology, University of Arkansas, 2001.

Professional Profile

  • 2019-Present: Director, Professor of Marine Science and Engineering, Red Sea Research Center, KAUST, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia​
  • 2018-2019: Acting Director, Professor of Marine Science and Engineering, Red Sea Research Center, KAUST, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia​
  • 2014-2018: Associate Professor of Marine Science and Engineering, Red Sea Research Center, KAUST, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia
  • 2009-2014: Assistant Professor of Marine Science and Engineering, Red Sea Research Center, KAUST, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia
  • 2008–2009: Visiting Scholar, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Australia. 
  • 2007–2009: Postdoctoral Scholar, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA. 
  • 2007: Visiting Scholar, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK. 
  • 2006–2007: Visiting Assistant Professor, Biology Department, University of Arkansas, USA. 
  • 2005–2007: Adjunct Instructor, Hawaii Pacific University, USA. 
  • 2005–2006: Instructor, Biology Department, University of Arkansas, USA.

Scientific and Professional Membership

  • ​American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • International Society for Reef Studies.
  • Australian Coral Reef Society.


  • ​John and Laurine Proud Fellowship, Lizard Island Research Station, Australian Museum, 2009.
  • Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship, American Australian Association, 2008.

KAUST Affiliations

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

Research Interests Keywords

Marine ecology Coral reef ecology Fish ecology Fisheries Ecosystems Climate Change Biodiversity Conservation biology Marine environment