Dr. Paul Muir is the Researcher/ Collection Manager for corals at the Museum of Tropical Queensland (MTQ), Townsville and has research interests in mesophotic (deep reef) corals, coral biogeography, coral taxonomy and marine microbiology. Paul worked with the renowned coral researcher and former Principal Scientist, Dr. Carden Wallace for many years at the Museum, assuming responsibility for the large coral collection at MTQ following Dr Wallace’s retirement. Paul has expertise in the group of corals known as the “staghorns” or genera Acropora and Isopora which are the main group of reef corals across much of the Indo-Pacific. The coral collection at MTQ is one of the largest in the world, with over 30 000 specimens collected from reef areas throughout the Indo-Pacific and is a valuable resource for marine researchers. Identification of corals is particularly challenging owing to the high level of intra-specific variation, difficulties in defining species boundaries and because identification schemes are based upon fine skeletal characters which are often impossible to observe in-situ.
Paul’s research is currently centred on ‘Corals at the Limits’. The limits to coral growth in terms of depth, latitude and environmental extremes are very topical given climate change and its predicted effects on coral reefs. Using the Museum’s extensive collection of reef corals and collaborating with other researchers they determined a fundamental factor underlying reef coral distributions (light at depth during winter) which has implications for some of the “big questions” in coral biology: (a) that many reef corals have limited scope for responding to warming oceans by migrating to higher latitudes due to the limitations of winter light and (b) that increasing species diversity towards the equator in many corals is related to increased winter light. He is also investigating Queensland’s mesophotic coral reefs – those at the limits of coral growth at depths of 30 to 130 m, collaborating with the XL Catlin Seaview Survey (“Google Streetview goes Underwater”) and University of Queensland. These deep reefs are perhaps Queensland’s last great unexplored habitat, covering an area approximately half the size of the “known” Great Barrier Reef, and they are just starting to document the new and unusual coral species they contain and how they persist at such depths. Similarly he was involved in looking at an extreme environment at another kind – a shallow reef in the Kimberly region: despite extreme temperatures and high levels of sediments these remote reefs contained a surprisingly high diversity of corals which we attribute to minimal human-related impacts.
He is also keen programmer and has created a website to promote knowledge of the staghorn corals: www.coralsee.org