People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.


Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution


Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

From 2005 to 2022, the main node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies was headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland (Australia)

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Apoptotic pathways associated with coral stress responses, bleaching and disease


Monday 11 August, 12:00 pm

ARC Centre of Excellence Conference Room, JCU. Video-linked to Centre for Marine Studies, UQ.
Dr Tracy Ainsworth, James Cook University

Tracy is originally from the North Coast of New South Wales. She completed a BSc in Marine Biology/Aquaculture in 1996 and MSc in Marine Microbiology/Immunology in 2001, both at James Cook University. After working at the University of Queensland for several years she completed a PhD in 2007 at the Center for Marine Studies. Her PhD research investigated the histopathology and microbial ecology of stress and disease in reef corals. Tracy’s broad research interests include stress responses, cell biology, immunity and disease of marine invertebrates.


Recent advances in sequencing cnidarian transcriptomes have revealed the unexpected genetic complexity of these morphologically simple basal organisms. These advances have the potential to provide novel insights into the biology of these economically and ecologically important organisms. The emerging insights into cnidarian genomics also provides the opportunity to develop an array of tools that can be applied to better understand the physiology, molecular biology and cellular responses of coral. Patterns of disease, tissue loss and bleaching have been described on coral reefs worldwide and are increasing under increased environmental pressures. The apparent link between environmental stress and degraded coral health, and the recent information demonstrating the complexity of the cnidarians, highlights the need to now understand the biology of the coral host and host responses in these patterns of change. Here we combine genome biology and pathology tools to investigate the host responses associated with coral diseases, and with patterns of bleaching and tissue loss. We outline the diversity of responses that occur at the molecular and cellular level that are involved in different stages and types of disease and tissue loss. We have identified the coral homologs of many of the key molecules that are involved in apoptotic and cell death pathways in higher organisms. This study demonstrates the complexity of the coral host biology associated with disease, and highlights the requirement for better understanding of the underlying physiological processes.


Australian Research Council Pandora

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