Soft corals set for intensive scrutiny

Soft corals.
Image: Gary Cranitch


By Angus Livingston
Wednesday 27 May  2009
SOFT corals have been comparatively under-studied in Australia, but hopefully that is about to change.
Dr Monika Schlacher-Hoenlinger, a research fellow at the Queensland Museum (QM), will study soft corals for three years as part of an Australian Biological Resources Study grant awarded to the QM's Professor John Hooper. It will allow her to collect and study soft corals from the east and west coasts of Australia.
On previous CReefs trips, Monika and her colleagues from QM and AIMS have collected specimens and identified them to genus, but that was as far as they could take it.
"We collected the soft corals but then we had no funding [to follow it up]," she said.
"But I do now – three years full time and just on soft coral. I'll also be able to get more training."
So far at Ningaloo, Monika and QM colleague Dr Merrick Ekins have found several points of difference to their sampling on Heron Island and Lizard Island.
"I think the main difference is that the biodiversity seems to be much lower," she said.
"It's a fringing reef here, and it's much more high energy."
Monika said there were so many species to look at that getting complete information on all of them would be impossible.
"We will pick certain groups of soft corals and try to work them up in more detail," she said.
"In the long term, it's definitely the goal to compare both coasts."
So far Monika and Merrick have collected about 100 specimens to go with the specimens they've collected from the Great Barrier Reef.
Monika said she was keeping the two collections separate so she could identify them and then see if there were any species that were present on both sides of the continent.