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Dr Paul Muir

Paul Muir is the Research Officer and Collection Manager for corals at Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville and has research interests in mesophotic (deep reef) corals, coral bleaching, coral biogeography, coral taxonomy and marine microbiology.

Paul is an expert in the “staghorn corals” (genera Acropora and Isopora) that dominate coral reefs across much of the Indo-Pacific. The Museum collection has over 30 000 specimens of this group collected from reef areas around the world. They are particularly vulnerable to human impacts, for example over 90% of Acropora populations have been lost from Caribbean Reefs in recent decades. Their identification is particularly challenging and just a few researchers around the world can accurately identify the ~124 species in the group.     

Paul’s research is currently centred on ‘Corals at the Limits’ or the limits to coral growth in terms of depth, latitude and environmental extremes. This work is very topical given climate change and its recent effects on coral reefs. Using the Museum’s extensive collection of reef corals, Paul recently led a group of researchers to uncover a fundamental factor underlying many coral distributions: the levels of light at depth during winter. The work addressed some of the “big questions” in coral biology: can reef corals respond to warming oceans by colonising cooler, higher latitudes and (b) what causes coral diversity to decline away from equatorial regions? Their work showed that the scope for corals to colonize higher latitudes is severely limited by seasonal light and this also is the most likely cause for decreasing diversity away from the equator.   

Paul recently led a group funded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature investigating the susceptibility of over 190 species of corals to mass bleaching. They found surprising differences in susceptibility between closely related species and between different regions. Most species showed greatly reduced bleaching effects with increasing depth and many also had reduced effects when they grew in shaded areas of the reef.

Paul is also investigating corals on mesophotic reefs at depths of 30 to 170 m. These are perhaps Queensland’s last great unexplored habitat, covering an area approximately half the size of the “known” Great Barrier Reef. Previously only ~30 coral species were recorded in these deep habitats, but Paul and a team from University of Queensland have documented over 190 species on the mesophotic reefs of the northern GBR. This is potentially of great importance to the health and continuity of the GBR as many deep populations are quite protected from mass bleaching and severe cyclones. These events can have catastrophic impacts on reefs and are predicted by most experts to increase in severity and frequency in the near future. Surviving deep populations can prevent extinctions and may also provide larvae to reseed severely impacted shallower habitats and drive reef recovery. Paul is now seeking funding to determine which species can benefit from this phenomenon and which species are most at risk of extinction following repeated mass bleaching events.

Paul is also keen programmer and has created a website to promote knowledge of the staghorn corals: coralsee.org

Projects: 

  • Deeper coral populations and their potential role in reef resilience and recovery in collaboration with Dr. Pim Bongaerts, California Academy of Sciences
  • Mass coral bleaching and estimating which species are most susceptible to repeated bleaching events, their rates of adaptation and how these factors vary between regions
  • Global distribution patterns and morphological traits of the staghorn corals in collaboration with Dr. David Aguirre, Massey University 

Adjunct appointments:

Research Associate, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

Recent publications:


  • Booth, T. & Muir, PR (2020) Climate change impacts on Australia's eucalypt and coral species: Comparing and sharing knowledge across disciplines.WIRES Climate Change. DOI: 10.1002/wcc.657 

  • Muir, P. R. Pichon, M. (2019) Scleractinian corals: Biodiversity in Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (eds. Loya, Y. et al. ) Springer. pp 589-620. 

  • Muir, P.R., Wallace, C.C., Pichon, M., Bongaerts, P. (in press) High species richness and lineage diversity of reef corals in the mesophotic zone. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

  • Bongaerts, P, …Muir, PR et al. (2019) Mesophotic.org: a repository for scientific information on mesophotic ecosystems. Database 2019: 1–6 doi: 10.1093/database/baz140

  • Muir, P. R. Pichon, M. (in press) Scleractinian corals: Biodiversity in Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (ed. Loya, Y. ) Springer.

  • Muir, P. R., Pichon, M., Squire, L., Wallace, C. C. (2018) Acropora tenella, a zooxanthellate coral extending to 110 m depth in the northern Coral Sea. Marine Biodiversity 

  • Muir, P.R., Marshall, P. A., Abdullah, A., Aguirre, D. J. (2017) Species identity and depth predict bleaching severity in reef building corals: Shall the deep inherit the reef? Proceedings of the Royal Society B284: 20171551. 

  • Muir, P. R., Wallace, C. C., Done, T., Aguirre, J. D. (2017) Response to letter regarding “Limited Scope for Latitudinal Extension of Reef Corals”. Frontiers of Biogeography 8.4, e32349. 

  • Englebert, N., Bongaerts, P., Muir, P., Hay, K., Pichon, M., Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2017) Lower mesophotic coral communities (60-125 m depth) of the northern Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. PLoSONE12(2): e0170336. 

  • Muir, P. R., Wallace, C. C. (2015) A rare ‘deep-water’ coral assemblage in a shallow lagoon in Micronesia. Marine Biodiversity 46: 543. doi:10.1007/s12526-015-0419-4 

  • Muir, P.R., Wallace C. C., Done, T. and Aguirre, J. D. (2015) Limited scope for latitudinal extension of reef corals. Science 348 (6239): 1135-1138. Links: Full Text Abstract

  • Muir P.R., Wallace, C.C., Bridge T. C. L. and Bongaerts, P. (2015) Diverse Staghorn Coral Fauna on the Mesophotic Reefs of North-East Australia. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0117933. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117933) Link

  • Bongaerts, P., Englebert, N., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Muir, P., Bridge, T. 2013. Cyclone damage at mesophotic depths on Myrmidon Reef (GBR). Coral Reefs  (doi:0.1007/s00338-013-1052-y)

  • Bongaerts P., Kline, D.I., Hoegh-Guldberg, O.,  Bridge, T.C.L., Muir, P.R. and Wallace, C.C. (2011)  Mesophotic coral ecosystems on the walls of Coral Sea Atolls. Coral Reefs (doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0725-7)

  • Bridge, T. C. L.,  Fabricius K. E., Bongaerts P., Wallace C. C., Muir P. R., Done T. J., Webster J. M. (2011) Diversity of Scleractinia and Octocorallia in the mesophotic zone of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Coral Reefs (doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0828-1)

  • Chen, I.-P.,  Tang, C.-Y., Chiou C.-Y., Hsu, J.-H.,  Wei, N.V., Wallace, C. C. , Muir, P., Wu, H., Chen, C. A. (2009) Comparative analyses of coding and noncoding DNA regions indicate that Acropora (Anthozoa: Scleractina) possesses a similar evolutionary tempo of nuclear vs. mitochondrial genomes as in plants. Marine Biotechnology 11: 141–152

  • Englebert, N.,  Bongaerts, P., Muir, P., Hay K.B., Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2014). Deepest zooxanthellate corals of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Marine Biodiversity (doi:10.1007/s12526-014-0221-8)

  • Muir, P.R. & Wallace, C.C. (2007).  An introductory guide to the Acropora or Staghorn corals of the world's coral reefs. Website

  • Richards, Z.T., Garcia, R.A., Wallace, C.C., Rosser, N.L., Muir, P.R. 2015  A Diverse Assemblage of Reef Corals Thriving in a Dynamic Intertidal Reef Setting (Bonaparte Archipelago, Kimberley, Australia). PLoS ONE 10(2): e0117791. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117791) Link

  • Richards, Z.T., Syms,C., Wallace, C.C., Muir, P.R., Willis, B.L. (2013). Multiple occupancy–abundance patterns in staghorn coral communities. Diversity and Distributions, 2013 1–12.

  • Wallace, C.C., Done, B.J., Muir, P.R. (2012) Revision and catalogue of worldwide staghorn corals Acropora and Isopora (Scleractinia: Acroporidae) in the Museum of Tropical Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum - Nature 57: 1-254 Link

  • Wallace, C.C., Phongsuwan, N., Muir, P.R. 2012. A new species of staghorn coral, Acropora sirikitiae sp. nov. (Scleractinia: Astrocoeniina: Acroporidae) from western Thailand. Phuket Marine Biology Center Research Bulletin 71: 117–124

  • Wallace, C.C., Fellegara, I., Muir, P. R. and Harrison, P. L. (2009) Recent and fossil corals of Moreton Bay, S.E. Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum - Nature 54: 1-118 Link

  • Wallace, C. C. ,  Chen, C. A. C. , Fukami, H. and Muir, P. R. (2007) Recognition of separate genera within Acropora based on new morphological, reproductive and genetic evidence from A. togianensis, and elevation of the subgenus Isopora Studer, 1878 to genus (Scleractinia: Astrocoeniidae; Acroporidae).  Coral Reefs 26: 231-239.

  • Wallace, C. C., Muir P. R., Venkatesh, M. (2007) Post-bleaching renewal of the dominant reef-building coral species Acropora abrotanoides in the Lakshadweep islands of India. Coral Reefs 26: 45

Section

Biodiversity

Position

Affiliate Researcher: Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

Coral Taxonomist: Catlin Seaview Survey

Research Officer, Collection manager, Biodiversity Program, Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville

Qualifications

PhD, James Cook University 1990