School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Event items

Assisting coral reef survival in the face of climate change

Agriculture Seminar Series - Dr James Guest, Newcastle University

Date/Time: Wednesday 21 November 2018, 13:00 - 14:00

Venue: Agriculture Building, Room 3.05


Dramatic changes to coral reefs are inevitable in the face of climate change because corals are highly vulnerable to changes in temperature. Corals have the capacity to adapt, but it is unclear whether rates of adaptation are sufficient to cope with current rates of change.

As a result, innovative approaches to conservation of corals are now being seriously considered. These include generation of coral genotypes preadapted to higher temperatures via selective breeding and assisted gene flow (AGF), i.e., deliberate movement of individuals or gametes within and between populations.

Corals reefs provide an excellent model for testing the feasibility of selective breeding and AGF because reef building corals: i) provide much of the habitat complexity on reefs; and ii) show considerable variation in thermal tolerance, even within populations.

Selective breeding and AGF involve certain risks for the fitness of recipient populations. For example, there may be resource trade-offs between adaptive traits, furthermore, it is not known if selected traits are heritable over multiple generations.

Therefore, considerable research is still needed before selective breeding and AGF can be implemented as conservation tools. CORALASSIST is a 5-year, European Research Council funded project that spans the disciplines of evolutionary biology, restoration ecology, microbiology and proteomics to examine the role that selective breeding and AGF can play in sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in the face of climate change.

During 2017 and 2018, the CORALASSIST team began work at the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC). Our main aims were to examine the extent of trade-offs between thermal tolerance and the potential for long-term heritability of thermal tolerance in a range of coral species with different life-history strategies.

During this talk Dr Guest will give an introduction and background to the project, discuss the rationale for our research, present results from field work carried out during 2017-2018 and discuss future directions for this work.


My research interests are diverse within coral reef science including diseases, reproductive and larval ecology, recruitment dynamics, long term community change, bleaching and restoration ecology. I have lived in five countries and worked with a diverse group of scientists from a range of disciplines in large, international multi-disciplinary research groups.

My current goal is to bring together the different branches of my research to better understand what active measures can be used to maintain ecosystem services from coral reefs in the face of climate change.

I currently lead a 5-year, 2 million Euro European Research Council Consolidator Grant at Newcastle University to assess the feasibility of assisting coral reef adaptation via assisted gene flow. This project began in 2017 and an experiment is currently underway to quantify heritability of heat resistance in three species of coral in Palau, Micronesia.