A SCIENTIST will start the monumental task of sifting through thousands of viruses to determine whether they are friends or foes to the Great Barrier Reef.
While most viruses are considered to be harmful to plants and animals, Australian Institute of Marine Science researcher Madeline van Oppen will examine whether viruses can add any benefit to coral reefs.
It has been estimated 28,000 viruses can live in a single coral colony. However, much is unknown about the effects – if any – they actually have. Some viruses may even contribute to coral bleaching, a condition brought on by stress.
Dr van Oppen has received a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, one of 28 awarded across the country, to assist her work.
Much of her field work on coral disease has been carried out on reefs in Far North Queensland.
She hoped her work could provide insights into how corals could respond to climate change.
"What I’ll firstly be doing is describing the diversity of viruses associated with coral disease and trying to figure out what range of roles they play in terms of coral health and disease, and also in the way they can adapt," Dr van Oppen said.
By working out how corals respond to potential stress from viruses, this could, in turn, help contribute to management strategies to strengthen reef health.
Another fellowship recipient was James Cook University researcher Dr Michelle Heupel, who will investigate the migration patterns of sharks and coral trout.
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