Enhanced Corals and Treatments

Assisted evolution research in the National Sea Simulator, AIMS

Assisted evolution research in the National Sea Simulator, AIMS. Photo: Marie Roman

Coral adaptation to the impacts of climate change – including increasing average water temperatures and more frequent and extreme heatwaves – will be critical to sustaining functional reefs into the future. It is not known how fast coral populations can naturally evolve and thus whether they can keep pace with the changing environment.

Research has found corals have substantial capacity to increase their growth rates and heat tolerance through methods such as selective breeding, manipulating their microbiomes or hardening treatments. Further research is required to determine the full scope for enhancement and any associated trade-offs.

The aim of the RRAP Enhanced Corals and Treatment R&D Subprogram is to deliver:

  • key understanding of the innate capacity of corals to adapt to current and projected temperature changes
  • an evaluation of the benefits and risks of enhanced heat and bleaching tolerance through selected movement, breeding or treatments
This R&D subprogram aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of performance in natural populations and the scope for enhancement through field studies, acute and long-term experiments, and selective breeding programs. This will be supported by strong collaboration with the Coral Aquaculture and DeploymentEcoRRAPMoving Corals and the Modelling and Decision-Support Subprograms. 

Scope and expected outcomes

Over four years the Enhanced Corals and Treatments R&D Subprogram will undertake research on:

  • The genetics of adaptation to understand the intrinsic potential for populations to respond to environmental change
  • The potential for selective breeding to enhance performance of corals used for restoration purposes
  • Algal and bacterial treatments to be applied during the coral propagation process (aquaculture and wild-caught) to enhance performance.

The research is planned to be delivered in three phases over 10 years.

Phase A will run for two to four years and focus on critical milestones with a focus on performance confirmation and cost breakthrough R&D.

Phase B will consolidate efforts on delivering larger-scale field trials and generalisable patterns.

Phase C will deliver the knowledge for implementation including regional-scale field trials.

Coral hardening research in the National Sea Simulator, AIMS. Photo: Christian Miller

Current projects

Genetic Basis of Key Traits

This project is providing essential data and information on where and how to identify temperature tolerant corals within and among reefs. This project will apply whole-genome sequencing, outlier and association analyses to uncover links between specific host genome regions, symbiont community characteristics and heat tolerance phenotypes from corals across the Reef.

Assisted Evolution

This project progresses ideas designed to enhance heat tolerance of corals, which would be operationalised via aquaculture processes, including crossbreeding of warm-adapted corals, genome sequencing of cross-bred corals, development of algal symbionts that enhance heat tolerance.

Prokaryotes, Treatments and Coral Nutrition

This project will assess the feasibility of using probiotics to enhance desired traits such as growth and survival in corals. Additionally, the project will develop treatments comprising a reliable suite of probiotics to enhance coral health and microbial inducers to promote settlement of a diversity of coral species, required to underpin aquaculture based coral propagation at scale.  

Subprogram leads:

Subprogram team:

Emily Howells

Dr Emily Howells

Project Lead, SCU

Professor Madeleine van Oppen

Project Lead, AIMS/Uni. of Melbourne

Dr Lone Hoj

Project Lead, AIMS

Assoc. Professor David Bourne

Project Lead, AIMS/JCU

Dr Cheong Xin Chan

Dr Cheong Xin Chan



Dr David Abrego


Dr Inke Vanwonterghem


Cynthia Riginos

Prof Cynthia Riginos


Assoc. Professor David Francis

Deakin University

Craig Humphreys

Craig Humphrey


Dr Patrick Laffy


Owain Edwards

Dr Owain Edwards


Dr Paul O'Brien

Postdoc, UQ

Agnes Le Port

Dr Agnes Le Port


Dr Samantha Goyen

Postdoc, AIMS

Dr Matthew Nitschke

Postdoc, AIMS

Dr Patrick Buerger

Postdoc, Macquarie University

Win Yan Chan_02 (1)

Dr Wing Chan

Postdoc, University of Melbourne