Abstract: Coral colony morphology is typically described in terms of discrete categories, which are useful for the purposes of species identification, describing general ecological patterns, and inferring likely responses to external factors (e.g. cyclones, predation, competition). However, this descriptive approach is less robust when applied to more specific questions that require a quantitative and empirical approach. Here I will present preliminary morphological data obtained using a portable 3D laser scanner and coral skeleton specimens, and show how this data can provide the basis for working towards quantitative framework of coral morphology. The dataset comprises over one hundred 3D models split by five major growth forms (massive, digitate, arborescent, corymbose and table) across a range of colony sizes. We describe key differences between growth forms from two morphological traits; the stratification of colony surface area to volume ratios and its relationship to colony size, and a novel insight into how colony biomass is distributed through a vertical axis. In addition to presenting this data, I will also provide a general overview of the laser scanner and its operating principles, culminating in a live demonstration of how the scanner can rapidly generate 3D models from coral skeletons. This work highlights the potential in using quantitative morphological data to increase the vocabulary available to coral researchers when discussing coral morphology in a general context, as well as providing an empirical toolset for applying morphology to other research questions.
Bio: Kyle is a 2nd Year Joint-PhD student at the University of St Andrews in the UK and Macquarie University here in Australia, supervised by Dr Maria Dornelas and Dr Joshua Madin. His interests range from lab-based coral ecophysiology experiments during his undergraduate and master projects, to now moving toward broader questions pertaining to coral communities and the role functional traits may play in shaping them. His PhD encompasses a wide range of data and methods, from working with the CoralTraits.org database and coral community data, to field-based work, and his current work with 3D laser scanning technology. He is currently visiting the Museum of Tropical Queensland where he has been working with Tom Bridge and the museum’s extensive coral collection to generate 3D models of coral colonies. He sincerely hopes that these 3D models will not just be visually impressive, but will also hold the key to answering a range of questions relating to coral community dynamics (and some publications).