Thesis: Climate variation and population ecology of high latitude corals
My thesis will investigate high latitude coral community dynamics to provide insight into their persistence in often stressful and marginal environments, at the limits of their range. I am particularly interested in looking at coral phenotypic plasticity, the environmental suitability of temperate reefs as refugia for corals under elevated ocean temperatures, and the ongoing tropicalisation of temperate ecosystems.
Specifically, I will explore variability in growth, fecundity and recruitment within the temperate reef environments along the latitudinal gradient of Western Australia’s coastline. I will also investigate the biogeographical patterns of coral connectivity and distribution from tropical into temperate areas, to establish a point of reference for future change.
Why my research is important
Historically temperate habitats have received little attention from coral biologists, but they are now known as hotspots of biodiversity and potential climate-refuges for tropical communities. Understanding how high latitude corals respond to temperature variation is of significant benefit for predicting the impacts of climate change on these marginal populations and for predicting how coral taxa may utilise temperate environments in the future. My research aims to better understand the extent of coral occupancy, their fitness in temperate areas and their response to thermal stress in order to inform tropicalisation and temperate refugia hypotheses.