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Reef life a winner in ARC Fellowships

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19 November 2010

Coral viruses and large fish migration will be under the spotlight, following the announcement that two Townsville-based researchers, Dr Madeleine van Oppen and Dr Michelle Heupel, have just been announced as recipients of prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowships, to be carried out at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

It has been estimated that an astonishing 28,000 viral types live on corals, yet little is known about these viruses.

Most viruses are considered detrimental, but many viruses of other animals and plants have been shown to have positive impacts on these organisms. The positive and negative impacts of viruses on corals, including their role in helping corals to adapt to change, are virtually unknown.

AIMS researcher Dr Madeleine van Oppen intends to solve some of the mystery surrounding coral viruses.

Dr van Oppen was awarded a Fellowship in the top rank of the highly-competitive national program, making her one of only 28 researchers in Australia to receive the highest-ranked Fellowships, and one of only six female recipients at this level.

The Fellowships were announced today by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr.

Using the Fellowship, Dr van Oppen will investigate the viruses associated with corals, to develop a detailed understanding of the critical role viruses play in coral health, coral bleaching and adaptation of corals to climate change.

The research results will provide major insight into how corals are likely to respond to climate change and will substantially contribute to management strategies which aim to maximise reef resilience.

Meanwhile, Dr Michelle Heupel from James Cook University and currently research director of AIMS@JCU, will use her Fellowship to investigate large fish migration, focussing on sharks and coral trout.

Large predatory fish are essential to a balanced ecosystem and require protection from overfishing.  Understanding what conditions cause them to migrate outside their normal home ranges will enable marine park managers to better design protection zones, both now and under future climate scenarios.

Dr Madeleine van Oppen; satellite phone 0011 870 763 971 938;

Dr Michelle Heupel, (07) 4781 4519; ; 0400 342 388

Wendy Ellery, AIMS media liaison, (07) 4753 4409; 0418 729 265;

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