How many coral species are there? Where do they live? Which species are rare?

These questions underpin the conservation of Australia’s coral populations and while they seem simple, answering them is currently impossible due to a lack of robust taxonomic and systematic framework to identify coral species. However, recently developed phylogenetic techniques now enable accurate delineation of corals at the species level, revolutionizing our understanding of the diversity and biogeography of corals.

Project aim

This project will create a curated genomic and taxonomic repository of Australia’s threatened coral reefs that will inform our understanding and conservation efforts of the Great Barrier Reef.

    Project Outcomes

  • Analyses of specimens using an integrated taxonomic approach combining analysis of field features, skeletal characters and molecular phylogenomics to clarify the diversity and biogeography of corals across northern Australia.
  • Provide insight into how many coral species occur in Australia and where they live, thereby providing critical baseline data to assess the status and trajectories of coral populations across northern Australia.
  • Publication of research data in leading scientific journals.
  • Specimens will be made available through QMN collections.

Specimens will be collected in the field at key locations across northern Australia including Capricorn Bunker Islands (southern Great Barrier Reef) and Palm Islands (central Great Barrier Reef) with the potential to expand research elsewhere in Australia.

Coral Bank’s connection to the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is among the most diverse and iconic ecosystems on Earth. A decline in the abundance and composition of corals means that we have little understanding of how coral communities are changing, or predicting what reef communities may look like in the future.

Coral Bank provides an opportunity to create the first comprehensive collection of corals in northern Australia that comprises three key components necessary to identify corals: high quality field photographs, skeletal voucher specimens and tissue samples for DNA analysis.

Coral Bank will provide the data collection with a critical snap shot of coral diversity in the Great Barrier Reef and across northern Australia at the present time. Without this information there is a high risk of silent extinctions where coral populations, even entire species are lost without being noticed. It will also provide critical new insights into the evolution of Australia’s corals, particularly the extent to which different regions re connected to each other.

This research is led by Dr Tom Bridge, Senior Curator of Corals and Dr Peter Cowman (Senior Curator of Biosystematics) at Queensland Museum Network in collaboration with James Cook University, American Museum of Natural History – Smithsonian Institute, Charles  Darwin University and Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.