Featured News Scientists search for adaptive coral reefs

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Thu, 27 Jul 2023

Scientists search for adaptive coral reefs

Kate Quigley
Dr Kate Quigley. Image: Marie Roman Copyright - AIMS

A James Cook University researcher is set to investigate why some coral reefs are resilient to warming oceans and their potential to adapt into the future.

Dr Kate Quigley is a Senior Research Fellow at JCU and Principal Research Scientist at Minderoo Foundation.

She said coral reefs are natural wonders of high socio-economic value gravely threatened by climate extremes.

“Coral reefs are one of the ecosystems most at risk of disappearing due to climate change. Coral cover globally has already declined significantly since 1980,” said Dr Quigley.

She said the new project, funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) aims to identify reefs across all of Australia’s World Heritage Sites that are most resilient to future warming: those with wide dispersal of coral larvae, that have mutually supporting, symbiotic relationships with other species, and those that can adapt best to the changing environment.

“We are urgently preparing against extinction and with this project we expect to deliver ground-breaking estimates of coral evolution by integrating genomics and innovative modelling approaches,” said Dr Quigley.

She said the team would be quantifying unknown genetic baselines, finding reefs that can survive climate extremes and using them to inform future protections and conservation actions so other reefs can survive as well.

“The loss of reefs would be devastating for the millions of people around the globe relying on them for food and for the coastal protection they provide. The fact that the project will boost Australia as a global leader in the conservation genomics revolution is almost an afterthought,” said Dr Quigley.

She said the problem is urgent as once degradation reached a certain point, it would be hard for reefs to recover.

“Reef ecosystem management is at a historical turning point in
which active conservation measures are increasingly being adopted to enhance protection of reefs and slow reef declines.

“In conjunction with urgent measures to halt or reduce the effects of climate change we must do all we can to protect reefs,” said Dr Quigley.


Dr Kate Quigley
E: katemarie.quigley@my.jcu.edu.au