Erika Woolsey grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended Duke University in North Carolina, where she majored in biology and minored in art history. She became interested in coral reefs during exchange programs in Australia and Bermuda. She moved to Sydney in 2006 and received her Masters of Applied Science from the University of Sydney where her thesis topic described coral spawning conditions in the southern Great Barrier Reef. She enrolled in the JCU PhD program in March 2010 and is now focusing on how temperature affects coral larval ecology and biogeography.
Temperature is a major contributor to geographical ranges of marine species and warming seas are already contributing to pole-ward range extensions of many marine invertebrates. For corals, range shift in response to temperature change, ie climate tracking, is a potential result of contemporary warming and may be an important mechanism for persistence of reefs over geological time. The effects of climate change are expected to vary with location and the southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is warming at a greater rate than northern regions. Counter-intuitively, these “reefs on the edge” may be under greater threat from temperature-related stressors than northern reefs despite a historically cooler regime. Such regions may also be particularly informative when forming temperature-related projections on reef futures. The proposed research will compare thermo-tolerance of early life stages between three thermally distinct regions, Lizard Island, One Tree Island and Lord Howe Island, to investigate potential opportunities for range expansion in coral reefs. Species-specific data on coral life history characteristics will also be compiled to explore how certain traits influence coral biogeography, in particular, the prominent decline in species richness with increasing latitude. Results of this study will be used to predict future distributions of corals under changing temperature regimes.