Resource Utilisation in Defining Coral Species Ranges Across a Large Biogeographical Scale

Marine Palaoecology Lab, The Univesity of Queensland

Considering the extensive high latitude reefs that exist south of the GBR and their relevance as potential refugia for tropical GBR corals, we aim to understand the role of elemental stoichiometry of corals in determining how metabolic rates might set latitudinal limits to the distribution of reef corals. In addition, we will evaluate the role of corals’ obligate dinoflagellate endosymbionts, which are intricately involved in nutrient cycling.
This opportunity suits students enrolled in SCI00211 and SCI83012


Availability: Approved

Time required: 9 hours per week

Duration: Not yet defined

National Marine Science Centre, Bay Drive
Coffs Harbour

Requires face to face contact: Yes

Related unit codes: SCI00211, SCI83012



Australian reef corals live near the edges of their ranges in relatively cool water. As ocean temperatures warm, novel communities are expected to develop in high latitude ecosystems and these areas may act as thermal refuges for tropical corals. We focus on the elemental concentration and stoichiometry of elements because they influence a range of cellular and organismal processes. The elemental stoichiometry of corals changes from the northern to southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Enhanced concentration of nitrogen towards higher latitudes is proposed to fuel higher metabolic rates required to complete reproduction cycles within the smaller, optimal temperature, time windows in these. .

The project aims to test the role of elemental composition (C, N and P) in the distribution of corals and their intracellular algal symbionts. To address this question, a total of 17 reefs have been samples from the tropical southern GBR to the Solitary Islands (Coffs Harbour, NSW). This unique sample collection (> 1200 samples) will enable us to determine whether coral distribution ranges are linked to changes in the nutrient composition in either symbiotic partner.


With coral reef communities being increasingly affected by warming ocean temperatures, predicting how coral communities at range margins will change is relevant for both conservation and management. The intended outcome of the project is to provide empirical knowledge that will enable accurate predictions of species migrations from tropical to subtropical waters.

Needs to be addressed

Coral reefs help to maintain a vast diversity of marine taxa and support a broad range of ecosystem services. This project addresses how the effects of nutrients on coral symbiosis and dispersal vary with environmental change. This information will directly inform dynamic management of Australian marine ecosystems, providing clues about how the highly diverse coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef can be sustained, potentially through migration south, under future environmental change.

Benefits to students

The student will have the opportunity to assist in a range of coral larvae spawning, rearing and settling experiments that will provide opportunities to gain skills in aquarium setup and maintenance and larvae care. Students would gain experience in:
- Working with a complex intracellular symbiosis
- Learning basic lab skills
- Performing various chemical analyses
- Understanding organismal nutrient cycling
- Larvae rearing and settling


Southern Cross University

The use of laboratory space, basic lab equipment (fume hood, centrifuges, pipettes, vortex, accurate scales)


Funding, expertise, large sample collection