Abstract: Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth, but are increasingly threatened by multiple stressors operating from local to global scales. Historically, the vast majority of research investigating the biodiversity, ecology and conservation of coral reefs has focussed on shallow habitats, generally less than 20 m depth. However, recent technological advances in the fields of marine robotics and technical mixed-gas diving have enabled researchers to explore waters to depths exceeding 150 metres. These studies have revealed that deeper reef habitats support unique and extraordinarily diverse ecological communities, and may also provide critical refuges for coral reef biodiversity from environmental stress. For example, on the Great Barrier Reef submerged reefs, banks and shoals in deeper waters support vast areas of coral reef habitat equivalent in size to all known shallow-water reefs. Coral reefs at mesophotic depths are occupied by both typical shallow-water taxa and unique ‘depth-endemic’ mesophotic specialists, many of which represent new records for Queensland or Australia, and some of which are new to science. Here, I describe what we know, and don’t know, about mesophotic coral reef biodiversity, and show how this research can inform effective conservation and sustainable use of mesophotic and deep-sea marine habitats. In addition, I show how cutting-edge technology used to safely and effectively access mesophotic and deep-sea ecosystems can be applied to improve predictions of the response of marine ecosystems to climate change. Finally, I show how traditional taxonomic resources can be utilised to address new questions regarding the evolution, ecology and conservation of coral reef biodiversity.
Biography: Tom is originally from Sydney and completed a B.Sc (Hons) at the University of Sydney. After spending time travelling and in the diving industry, Tom moved to Townsville in 2007 to begin his PhD in the School of Earth and Environmental Science at JCU, using newly-developed autonomous underwater vehicle technology studying mesophotic coral reefs on the Great Barrier Reef. His major field work comprised a month-long expedition on board the RV Southern Surveyor, which conducted the first detailed study of the biology of the Great Barrier Reef outer-shelf. Completing his PhD in 2012, Tom has continued his research on mesophotic coral reefs as a joint postdoc at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. His current research interests include biodiversity and conservation of mesophotic coral reefs, and application of new technology to better understand and predict the responses of environmental change on marine ecosystems.