Project Background: Reef building scleractinian corals typically thrive within a narrow range of environmental conditions and are highly sensitive to environmental change. However, how corals are able to thrive in relatively extreme environments towards present day geographical limits is increasingly recognized as a key means with which to predict their future distribution and function. Such environments are termed ‘marginal’ and have become recognized as critical for supporting the future existence of coral reefs, and thus are of high conservation value.
Coral distribution in eastern Australia is dominated by the Great Barrier Reef but pushes as far south as Sydney Harbour where coral species have already naturally become preconditioned to live in a relatively extreme environment. Environments like Sydney Harbour may become the ‘norm’ for reefs in future as waters increasingly warm with climate change. Incredibly almost nothing is known of coral diversity/distribution this far south, or of the physiological ‘rules’ governing this distribution, with which to measure against future change. This project therefore aims to investigate the biodiversity and physiology of coral populations within Sydney Harbour, and how it is shaped by local environmental conditions. The form and function of the holobiont (the cnidarian coral and its associated microbial community) will be described using molecular biology techniques and the physiological limits to long-term steady state versus short-term anomalous environmental conditions and how are these limits governed by host physiological properties versus microbial community structure will be established using physiological techniques.
This approach will provide new data to inform predictive ecological and physiological models describing coral growth and adaptation but also add critical new insight as to the biological diversity (both the microbiome and the coral itself) inherent to Sydney Harbour.
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Help Sam and her colleagues fund extra experiments via experiment.com (opens an external site) Sydney Harbour-ing unknown coral treasures