Abstract: The limits to coral growth in terms of depth, latitude and environmental extremes are very topical given climate change and its predicted effects on coral reefs. Using the Queensland Museum’s extensive collection of reef corals we determined a fundamental factor underlying reef coral distributions: the amount of light at depth during winter. This finding was published recently in Science and has implications for some of the “big questions” in coral biology: (a) that many reef corals have limited scope for responding to warming oceans by migrating to higher latitudes and (b) that increasing species richness towards the equator is related to increased winter light for many corals. Paul is also investigating Queensland’s mesophotic coral reefs – those at the limits of coral growth at depths of 30 to 130 m, collaborating with the XL Catlin Seaview Survey (“Google Streetview goes Underwater”) and University of Queensland. These deep reefs are perhaps Queensland’s last great unexplored habitat, covering an area approximately half the size of the “known” Great Barrier Reef, and we are documenting their coral fauna, connectivity with shallow reef corals, how corals thrive at such depths and their potential role as a “deep-reef refuge”. Paul also outlines many of the misconceptions regarding museum research and coral identification and how researchers can benefit from using the Museum collections and taxonomic expertise.
Biography: Paul Muir is a graduate of JCU, completing his Honours degree on asexual reproduction of P. damicornis coral in 1984 and his PhD on marine microbiology and aquaculture in 1991. He recently authored a paper in Science reporting limited scope for latitudinal extension of many corals and causes of a latitudinal gradient in species richness. Working at the Queensland Museum, Townsville, he specializes in taxonomy of the Acropora or staghorn corals and studies mesophotic corals 30-130 m depth. He worked for the previous three years on the Catlin Seaview Survey (known as Google-Streetview goes underwater) as part of the “deep-reef” research team, exploring what is perhaps the last great undocumented Queensland habitat: the deep GBR. Trained as an ROV operator and technical diver he also has interests in programming and robotics.