Examine the specimens collected and studied by Queensland Museum scientists to understand the diversity of Australia’s reef corals.
Explore our extensive coral collection and the research examining the diversity, ecology and evolution of corals from the Great Barrier Reef and right across the Indo-Pacific.
Queensland Museum holds one of the world’s largest and most scientifically important collections of reef corals. While the collection includes a large number of specimens from Queensland's iconic Great Barrier Reef, it includes specimens from around world. By comparing specimens collected from the Great Barrier Reef to those collected from other reef regions, such as Western Australia, Indonesia or the South Pacific, we can learn how distinct the Great Barrier Reef’s corals are from those elsewhere in the world.
Until recently, corals were identified based purely on differences in the morphology (shape) of the coral skeleton, therefore most of the corals in the collection are fragments of larger colonies. However, recent research comparing coral DNA has shown that some of the characters traditionally used to identify species are not informative. Queensland Museum is now making extensive collections of corals combining these skeletal 'voucher’ specimens with tissue samples for DNA analysis and also high-quality field images. These new specimens are contributing to the growing body of ‘integrated’ taxonomic research, which combines morphological and molecular analysis, that is fundamentally altering our understanding of the diversity and biogeography of reef corals.
Reef corals belong to a group called the Scleractinia, a branch of the phylum Cnidaria which also includes soft corals, sea anemones, and jellyfish. All scleractinian corals build hard calcium carbonate skeletons, which is what allows these tiny animals to build enormous coral reefs.
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Queensland Museum coral collection contains over 40,000 registered specimens, making it one of the largest in the world. While the collection includes specimens collected as early as 1924 during an expedition by the newly-formed Great Barrier Reef Committee (now the Australian Coral Reef Society), most specimens have been collected since the 1970s. The advent of SCUBA diving as a tool for scientific research around this time greatly enhanced the capacity of scientists to study the Great Barrier Reef’s marine biodiversity. This research resulted in the description of many new coral species, and the Museum of Tropical Queensland collection holds the primary types for 141 coral species – a number that will continue to grow as molecular research reveals new discoveries about the diversity and evolutionary history of reef corals and their relatives.
Queensland Museum conducts research on the taxonomy, systematics, biogeography, ecology and evolution of corals. Surprisingly, we still have little idea about fundamental questions such as how many coral species live on the Great Barrier Reef, or where they live. However, a robust taxonomy that accurately reflects patterns of biodiversity underpins virtually all aspects of biological and conservation science. For example, the capacity to accurately identify species is critical for understanding how our changing environment is affecting the diversity and abundance of corals, and for informing management on everything from permit compliance to the effectiveness of interventions designed to assist recovery of degraded reefs.