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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Hannah Epstein

Hannah Epstein

PhD graduate

Bachelor of Marine Science (Honours), James Cook University 2013

James Cook University & the Australian Institute of Marine Science

About Me

I am a PhD candidate primarily interested in the adaptation and acclimatization of corals to climate change. Specifically, I use molecular techniques to better understand corals and their microbiomes in the face of environmental change, and to inform the development of novel and innovative reef restoration techniques. I am based at both the ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, as part of the joint venture AIMS@JCU.

Hailing from the rocky shores of California, I began my career in marine science at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, after which I completed my Bachelor of Marine Science with 1st Class Honours at James Cook University. My early research was in the field of ecotoxicology, determining the biomonitoring potential of jellyfish for heavy metal pollution. I then switched gears to molecular phylogenetics while working as a research volunteer at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco with Dr. Terry Gosliner and Dr. Rebecca Johnson on nudibranch (sea slug) taxonomy and systematics. My interest in molecular work drove me to continue into molecular ecology for my PhD, particularly on the microbial ecology of corals. I am now carrying out my PhD under the supervision of Prof. Madeleine van Oppen, Prof. Philip Munday and Dr. Gergely Torda.

ResearchGate | Twitter | LinkedIn

Current Research

My PhD research is focused on understanding the drivers of healthy coral microbiomes (e.g., whether microbial community composition is driven by factors such as host species, season and/or environment) and how we can use this information to inform the development of microbiome engineering techniques that may enhance climate resilience in corals. Microbiome engineering is the manipulation of microbial communities for improved host performance. This research sits under the coral assisted evolution umbrella, a novel restoration concept aimed at human-assisted enhancement of coral survival under environmental stress. As such, I am part of an international collaborative team researching assisted evolution approaches that is led by Prof. Madeleine van Oppen at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Dr. Ruth Gates at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology.

Follow the Coral Assisted Evolution team @Coral_AE.


Epstein HE, Torda G, van Oppen MJH (in review). Thermal stress has little effect on the microbiome of the coral Pocillopora acuta. Coral Reefs.

Epstein HE, Kingsford MJ (in review). Are soft coral habitats unfavourable? A closer look at the association between reef fishes and their habitat. Environmental Biology of Fishes.

Epstein HE, Smith H, Torda G, van Oppen MJH (Accepted). Microbiome engineering: A new hope for enhancing climate resilience in corals? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Epstein HE, Hallas JM, Lopez A, Johnson RF and Gosliner TM (2018). Reading between the lines: Revealing cryptic species diversity and colour patterns in Hypselodoris nudibranchs (Mollusca: Heterobranchia: Chromodorididae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. XX: 1-74. DOI: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zly048. Click here to view.

Smith H, Epstein H, Torda G (2017). The molecular basis of differential bleaching and morphology in two morphs of the coral Pocillopora acuta. Scientific Reports. 7, 10066. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-10560-2. Click here to view.

van Oppen MJH, Gates R, Blackall LL, Cantin N, Chakravarti LJ, Chan WY, Cormick C, Crean, A, Damjanovic K, Epstein H, Harrison PL, Jones TA, Miller M, Pears RJ, Peplow LM, Raftos DA, Schaffelke B, Stewart K, Torda G, Wachenfeld D, Weeks AR, Putnam HM (2017). Shifting paradigms in restoration of the world’s reefs. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13647. Click here to view.

Epstein HE, Templeman MA, Kingsford MJ (2016). Fine-scale detection of pollutants by a benthic marine jellyfish. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 107(1): 340-346. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.03. Click here to view.

In the Works:

Wenger A, Darling ES, Ahmadia G, Alvarez-Romero J, Barnes M, Blythe J, Brodie J, Day J, Epstein H, Fox H, Gill D, Auil Gomez N, Gurney G, Holmes K, Jupiter S, Lamb J, Mangubhai S, Matthews E, Matthews K, Pressey B, Teneva L, Tewfik A, Wells S (in prep). A solution-scape for coral reefs: technical tools, policies and financial approaches for conservation. Frontiers in Marine Science.

Grants & Awards

ISME17 Travel Grant, International Society for Microbial Ecology, €800, 2018

Science Communication Award, AIMS@JCU, AUD$1,500, 2018

Higher Degree Research Enhancement Scheme, ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies, AUD$2,750, 2017

Exploration Fund Grant, The Explorer’s Club, USD$1,000, 2017

Registration Waiver for the Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation Summer Course on Microbial EcologyUNSW and Leica, AUD$570, 2016

Postgraduate Research Scholarship, AIMS@JCU, Tuition & Living Stipend, 2015-2018

Pilot Research Award, AIMS@JCU, AUD$1,000, 2015

Academic Medal for Bachelor HonoursJames Cook University, 2014

Academic Medal for Bachelor CourseworkJames Cook University, 2013

Teaching Experience

Practical Demonstrator (Teaching Assistant), MB2080: Invertebrate Zoology, James Cook University, 2013- Present

Practical Demonstrator (Teaching Assistant), MB2050: Functional Biology of Marine Organisms, James Cook University, 2013-2018

Science Tutor, Diploma of Higher Education, James Cook University, 2015


Australian Research Council Pandora

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