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Evolving coral reef conservation

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12 February 2016
Settled coral polyp. Image: AIMS

15 February 2016

Evolving coral reef conservation - Experts explore application of assisted-evolution to building resilience in corals


The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), in partnership with the University of Hawai’i and the Paul Allen Family Foundation, will host a ground-breaking workshop this month. The event, “Building Coral Reef Resilience through Assisted Evolution” will bring together over 20 scientific experts in research areas relevant to (human)-assisted evolution (AE), to leverage lessons learned from biological systems other than coral reefs and provide direction to the emerging field of AE in corals.

”AE is the acceleration of naturally occurring evolutionary processes to enhance certain characteristic of organisms. In this case we aim to enhance the ability of corals to cope with climate change impacts, particularly ocean warming and acidification”, says Prof Madeleine van Oppen.

“The methods we are using are commonly applied in agriculture, aquaculture and forestry for commercially important species, and are gaining traction in terrestrial restoration initiatives overseas. However, such approaches have not been previously explored in marine conservation”, she explains.

The three-day closed workshop will be held 23 - 25 February in Townsville and is organised by pioneering researchers Prof Madeleine van Oppen (AIMS/University of Melbourne), Dr Ruth Gates (Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology) and Dr Hollie Putnam (Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology). Participants include researchers from a range of career stages affiliated with both international and domestic universities and federal research and management organisations such as:

Image: AIMS
  • State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, New York, USA
  • Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
  • Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia
  • University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  • University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Australia
  • United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service/Forage & Range Research Lab, Utah State University, Logan, USA
  • National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration/Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Miami, USA
  • The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Additionally, a key aim of the workshop is to initiate a public discussion on AE in corals.

“Engaging in a public dialogue about the science of assisted evolution and how it can be used to enhance reef resilience is an important component of appropriately progressing research in this area,” stated Dr van Oppen.

In response, the workshop program includes a free Public Forum: “Unravelling the science behind climate-proof corals” to be held on February 24th at Rydges Southbank Convention Centre in Townsville from 5:30 – 6:30 pm. The forum will consist of four short presentations by workshop participants followed by a Q & A session with an expert panel facilitated by distinguished climate change researcher Dr Janice Lough. Event details are provided here. Download your copy of the event flyer here (PDF I 265K).


Want to learn more about assisted evolution research at AIMS, see: