Hannah Epstein - AIMS@JCU

Hannah Epstein

hannah.epstein@my.jcu.edu.au

PhD
College of Science and Engineering

Hannah Epstein

hannah.epstein@my.jcu.edu.au

PhD
College of Science and Engineering
The main drivers of microbial communities in corals and their potential role in the acclimatisation of corals to environmental change

Hannah completed her Bachelor of Marine Science with Honours in 2013 at James Cook University. Her Honours research focused on the effect of urbanisation on the uptake and retention of trace metals in jellyfish, and their potential use as a biomonitoring species. During 2014 and 2015, Hannah joined a project at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco on phylogenetics and systematics of nudibranchs under Senior Curator Terry Gosliner. With a continued love for marine invertebrates and lab work, Hannah is currently completing her PhD under the supervision of Madeleine van Oppen (AIMS and ARC CoE , Phil Munday (JCU and ARC CoE) and Gergely Torda (AIMS and ARC CoE), investigating the main drivers of microbial communities in coral. Her project is part of a larger collaborative study led by Madeleine van Oppen and Ruth Gates (Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology) focusing on the non-genetic inheritance of stress tolerance in corals.

The main drivers of microbial communities in corals and their potential role in the acclimatisation of corals to environmental change

2015 to 2018

Project Description

The main objective of the project is to determine the main drivers of microbial communities in corals and what the implications of these are to future management of coral reefs in the face of climate change. The specific aims of this project are to 1) determine natural, long-term seasonal variation of the microbiome in corals across species and reef, 2) determine coral microbiome changes during a sub-bleaching thermal stress event, 3) determine the extent to which the microbiome in coral offspring are determined by parents or the environment, and 4) examine the role of microbiome engineering in enhancing coral resilience to climate change.

Project Importance

The research that will come out of this project will help to understand the natural drivers of coral microbial communities and investigate how environmental changes can affect the coral at the holobiont level. This research will be highly applicable to the creation of more accurate predictive models for the future of coral reefs stressed by environmental changes and have implications for future management options.

Project Methods

The aims of this project will rely on the collection of coral samples from the central Great Barrier Reef (aims 1 and 2) and from an in situ reciprocal transplant experiment in the southern Great Barrier Reef (aim 3). Using 16S rRNA and ITS2 amplicon sequencing (e.g. barcoding), any changes in the bacterial and Symbiodinium communities will be identified through time and across reefs, throughout a sub-bleaching thermal stress event, and within the experimental conditions. Finally, an extensive literature review (aim 4) will provide insight into the use of microbiome engineering as a possible future management option for coral reefs in the face of climate change.

Project Results

Through this research, Hannah hopes to address some of the knowledge gaps in the field of coral microbial ecology that will be beneficial in applying microbiome research to future management or conservation efforts on coral reefs.

Keywords

Algae,
Bacteria,
Benthic,
Biostatistics,
Climate change,
Coral reefs,
Corals,
Ecology,
Field based,
Genetics,
Management tools,
Manipulative experiments,
Microbial,
Microbiology,
Molecular techniques,
Ocean warming,
Quantitative marine science