5 minutes with Dr Tom Bridge

Take a deep dive virtually into the Great Barrier Reef this week as Dr Tom Bridge, Senior Curator of Corals spends 5 minutes chatting about his favourite parts of the collection and his research.

What is your favourite species in the collection and why?

Since I started at Museum of Tropical Queensland we have collected a number of new species. They are not yet registered because they require official descriptions to be published, which requires a fair bit of work on both the morphology and DNA of the specimens – but they will certainly become my favourite objects.

Do you have any interesting facts about your specialty area?

The Queensland Museum coral collection is one of the largest and most important collections of reef corals in the world. We have specimens from all over the world, but given our location we have a particular focus on the Great Barrier Reef. Much of our current knowledge on coral diversity on the Great Barrier Reef is based on the collections at Museum of Tropical Queensland. The collection provides a permanent record of the diversity and biogeography of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, which is particularly important in the context of the significant changes the reef is currently experiencing.

We have a particular focus on staghorn corals of the genus Acropora. While it may seem a little odd to focus on a single genus, staghorn corals are the most diverse genus on the Great Barrier Reef, probably constituting 25-30% of all coral species. They are also critically important to the reef ecosystem, as they have a wide variety of growth forms that provides the habitat complexity reef-associated species (e.g. fishes) rely on for food, shelter etc. Staghorn corals are therefore like the trees in a tropical rainforest. Unfortunately, they are also among the corals most vulnerable to disturbances such as bleaching, crown-of-thorns predation, cyclone damage and disease.

Tell us a little bit about your area and why do you love working in this specific research area?

Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth, so working on reefs around the world and understanding their incredible diversity is a fantastic job. It’s also a very exciting time because the new techniques being developed are providing new insights into the diversity of corals and many other groups of animals. It’s also important because coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth, so we need to understand the consequences of the threats they face and provide information that can be used to conserve them.

What is your favourite thing about your role at the museum? Why?

Working at the museum allows me to address fundamental, big-picture questions about the diversity of life on our planet, a question that has fascinated scientists for millennia. There is also a great opportunity to communicate our research, and science more broadly, to the general public. I see this role as critically important, because ensuring people understand the importance of biodiversity and healthy natural ecosystems is critically important in order for them to be protected.

What is one of the most interesting facts you have discovered through working at the museum?

In conjunction with collaborators at James Cook University and the Smithsonian Institute (USA), we have found that diversity and biogeography of corals on reefs is fundamentally different to what we previously thought.

Learn more about Dr Tom Bridge here.