Climate Change and Coral Bleaching Research Funded, BYM, 07/10/07
Source: BYM Marine Environment News
Critical research into climate change and coral bleaching is to benefit from the Queensland Government's latest round of Smart State Innovation Funds.
Minister for State Development John Mickel said Dr Line Bay from the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based at James Cook University in Townsville, had received a Smart State Fellowship worth $150,000 over three years.
"Dr Bay's research could help us find not only ways of protecting the Great Barrier Reef, but could have implications for global reef management," Mr Mickel said.
"The World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, supporting a rich diversity of wildlife. In 2003 it was estimated that the reef generated over $4 billion annually in tourism, drawing about two million visitors a year," Mr Mickel said.
He said global climate change, with rising sea temperatures, posed a significant threat to the reef because it increased the risk of mass coral bleaching.
All reef-building corals harbour microscopic algae called zooxanthellae that through photosynthesis supply most of the energy requirements for their coral hosts.
Coral bleaching occurs when the relationship between the zooxanthellae and the coral host breaks down.
"Many of the 400 species of coral on the reef are currently living on the edge of their temperature tolerance and could well be susceptible to coral bleaching," Mr Mickel said.
"There was mass coral bleaching on the Barrier Reef in the summers of 1998, 2002 and 2006. And in 2002, reefs in Palau, the Seychelles and Okinawa suffered 70-90% bleaching. While most reef ecosystems recover to some degree, that can take up to 20 years and if as predicted, by 2050 bleaching becomes an annual occurrence, then our reefs are in serious trouble.
"Dr Bay's work will increase our understanding of the genetics of coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis and bleaching," Mr Mickel said.
Dr Bay said scientists knew that certain coral-zooxanthellae combinations could respond differently to increased temperatures, but currently had a limited understanding of the genetic processes underlying these differences.
"We will use microarray technology to examine gene expression, that is how genes are turned on and off in corals hosting different types of zooxanthellae under healthy and stressful conditions. Microarrays are a powerful technique that allows thousands of genes to be examined simultaneously," Dr Bay said.
She will also examine the capacity of corals to change their gene expression levels when environmental conditions change.
She said she hoped the research would lead not only to a greater understanding of coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis, but that it could lead to the identification of coral populations or species that were more tolerant to higher temperatures.
"If we can work that out, then we can look at ways of managing those more resilient corals as a way to preserve healthy coral reefs in the face of global climate change," she said.
The Smart State Fellowships are part of the Queensland Government's $200 million Smart State Innovation Funding Program, which aims to build world-class research facilities, attract top-quality scientists to Queensland and stimulate cutting-edge research projects.
Round Two of the Smart State Innovation Funds set out about $18.5 million in assistance, including project funding, research fellowships and university internships
Mr Mickel is hosting a special reception at 3pm today for the latest recipients of the Smart State Fellowship and Queensland Clinical Research Fellowship programs at the Queensland Room, the Executive Building, 100 George Street, Brisbane.
"The Queensland Government has invested more than $3 billion in innovation, science and research since 1998. I think this demonstrates our deep and ongoing commitment to maintaining Queensland's reputation as the Smart State," Mr Mickel said.
Dr Bay is part of a collaborative team of scientists from James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Danish Technical University.
Her Smart State Fellowship is co-sponsored by James Cook University and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, who have awarded matching funds.