Corinne Allen - AIMS@JCU

Corinne Allen

University of Melbourne - School of BioSciences

Corinne Allen

University of Melbourne - School of BioSciences
Exploring the potential of Symbiodiniaceae experimental evolution as a strategy to improve coral resilience

Corinne was born and raised in Florida, USA, where her love for the outdoors was established and nourished. Driven by her passion for the ocean in particular, she pursued her Bachelor of Science (Honors) degree in Marine Science and Biology at the University of Miami. During her time there she worked at the intersection of research and restoration, studying symbiosis ecology of reef corals and how symbiont manipulation may be used as a tool to enhance coral thermal tolerance. She also discovered her passion for science communication through coordinating outreach events and volunteering with citizen science programs. Now, Corinne is continuing her research journey at AIMS by pursuing a PhD further investigating the dynamics of experimentally evolved symbionts and how they may be used to enhance coral resilience.

Exploring the potential of Symbiodiniaceae experimental evolution as a strategy to improve coral resilience

2022 to 2025

Project Description

Experimentally evolving coral-associated microalgae (Symbiodiniaceae) and reintroducing them into the coral host is a powerful method that has been successfully implemented to enhance coral thermal tolerance. To provide further insight into the capacity and efficacy of this approach, this project will explore the use of additional Symbiodiniaceae genera (including rare heterologous symbionts), assess the fitness of the generated coral stock, and evaluate the feasibility and safety of this approach in the context of field deployment.

Project Importance

Given the increasing frequency and severity of summer heat waves that result in coral bleaching, it is critical to gain a deeper understanding of the coral heat stress response and develop viable intervention strategies that enhance coral resilience. The experimental evolution of Symbiodinaceae is a powerful and promising approach; however further studies are needed to assess its practicability in a restoration context.

Project Methods

Corals will be chemically bleached and inoculated with heat-evolved heterologous Symbiodiniaceae strains. The corals and their manipulated symbiont communities will then be exposed to elevated temperatures and tested for improved resilience, as well as any resulting tradeoffs. If able to successfully establish and maintain symbiosis, ecological relevance of lab results may be assessed through deployment of bio-engineered corals in the field, where they will be monitored over time.

Project Results

Experimental studies have demonstrated that Symbiodiniaceae strains can be laboratory-evolved to adapt to elevated temperatures and subsequently reintroduced into juvenile and adult hosts to create a coral stock with increased thermal tolerance. However, much of the potential of this approach has yet to be realized. Implementing heterologous symbionts into the experimental evolution approach will not only facilitate understanding of how rarer symbionts respond to climate change, but also provide insight into which genera and species of Symbiodiniaceae may be better sources for evolutionary experiments. Furthermore, deployment of bio-engineered corals into the field will provide valuable information about the stability of the manipulated symbiosis under seasonal fluctuations in environmental conditions, any costs and benefits associated with the heat-evolved Symbiodiniaceae, and general efficacy of this approach as a viable restoration strategy.


Climate change,
Coral reefs,
Field based,
Management tools,
Manipulative experiments,
Molecular techniques,
Ocean warming,

Supervised By:

Madeleine van Oppen (AIMS)

Elizabeth Evans-Illidge (AIMS)

Matthew Nitschke (AIMS)

Wing Chan (University of Melbourne)