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One important and currently understudied
consequence of change to New South Wales coasts and coastline, is the impact of
change to our coral populations.
The New South Wales marine environment hosts endemic and
rare coral species, and the iconic Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands host the worlds’
southern most coral reefs. Coral species are in fact found along the New South
Wales coastline, and many unique, important coral systems are right here on our
doorsteps. But our coastal ecosystems
are changing rapidly, and with that the habitats that support coral populations
are under increasing pressure. As a
result many marine species are shifting where they live, what that do, and crucially,
the implications of irreversible ecosystem changes in coastal habitats is that
we now need to anticipate and adapt to the emergence of entirely new, novel,
What does this mean for
corals and our unique NSW coral ecosystems?
One question we don’t yet have an answer to is what does the
future hold for the NSW corals? Current temperate coral populations and invading
tropical coral species may have faster rates of acclimation and adaptation to a
changing climate within warming temperate environments and there is the potential
for these regions to act as national seed banks and genetic refugia. But the
emergence of both multiple impacts in these marine ecosystems may add too much
pressure to changing systems. There is therefore an impetus to anticipate the
structure and function of our marine ecosystems of the future, the role corals
will play and the fate of our endemic species.
Specifically this research
program aims to determine the responses underpinning coral success in warming temperate
Here we will
study coral populations across the New South Wales coastal habitats and
determine the impacts of changing environment on their capacity to survive,
grow, reproduce and thrive in the New South Wales coastal waters of the future.
project is of significance to New South Wales marine environment protection
and our capacity to accurately predict how marine ecosystems will stabilize and
re-form as the environment stabilises in the future.
This research can transform our understanding of
temperate coastal habitats of the future by determining the mechanisms that
facilitate the success, or failure, of the unique coral within Australia’s temperature zones.
The project is led by Associate Professor Tracy Ainsworth from UNSW, and will be conducted in the SIMS aquaria.