a petri dish with a yellow streak of what looks to be bacteria on it. the background is all black.

Smells like home – identifying microbial cues for coral settlement

A critical step in the life cycle of a coral is when the free-swimming larvae find a surface to settle on. For each settled larva, the selected spot is where they will grow into a juvenile coral and spend their life. The settlement process is controlled by multiple factors, including the detection of chemical signals that indicate a good home.

Identifying and applying microorganisms that produce such signals can assist the successful development of large-scale coral aquaculture.

In 2021 and 2022, we investigated the relationship between the surfaces where coral larvae were settling and the thin layer of microbes (biofilm) on those surfaces using molecular analyses. With the help of advanced statistical approaches, we identified microorganisms that are associated with high settlement success.

fluorescence green circular shapes glow against a dark background surface
Platygyra daedalea recruits settling on coral rubble fragments. Image: Paul O'Brien

In parallel, we successfully isolated and cultured microorganisms from these biofilms and seawater, including many bacteria that are related to those identified as possible producers of settlement inducing chemistry.

In 2023, we are ready to test if our suspected signal-producers do indeed induce settlement of coral larvae.

Feature image: Felicity Kuek


Dr Laura Rix (UQ)

Dr Paul O’Brien (UQ)

Dr Sara Bell

Dr Felicity Kuek (UQ)

Dr Lone Hoj 


This research is supported by 

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, funded by the partnership between the Australian Government's Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation

This page was updated in November 2023.