Representation in United Kingdom

EU-funded UK researcher in discovery of corals thriving against odds


Coral reefs
© Dr James Guest

An international team of academics – which includes Dr James Guest, an EU-funded researcher from Newcastle University – have discovered communities of corals that have been able to escape, resist or recover from changes to their environment.


Dr Guest, the lead author of a paper on these findings published recently in the Journal of Applied Ecology explains:

"Coral reefs are in rapid, global decline but the severity of degradation is not uniform across the board and what we have identified are coral reefs that are doing better than their neighbours against the worst effects of climate change and local impacts. This glimmer of hope does not mean we can be complacent about the severity of the crisis facing most of the world's coral reefs. But it does give us a starting point from which to understand why some ecosystems might be more resistant than others and to identify areas that warrant stronger protection or specific management strategies, such as restoration or mitigation."

Dr Guest incorporated his EU-funded work in a collaborative effort between many international researchers. In 2017, Dr Guest received a consolidator grant worth €2.02 million by the European Research Council (ERC), the EU's funding institution for excellence in frontier research. His project – "Assisting Coral Reef Survival in the Face of Climate Change" (CORALASSIST) – started on 1 Aug 2017 and examines the role assisted gene flow (AGF) can play in sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in the face of climate change.

AGF involves the deliberate movement of individuals or gametes within their natural range to facilitate adaptation to environmental change. Coral reefs provide an excellent model for testing AGF as a conservation tool because reef building corals are foundation species and are highly vulnerable to thermal stress. The overall aim of CORALASSIST is to establish the feasibility of implementing AGF in coral reef ecosystems using a combination of selective breeding, proteomics and innovative translocation techniques.

The ERC is the first European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Its work is part of the wider €77bn (£68bn) EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and will remain a key component of Horizon Europe, the future research funding programme outlined in the Commission's proposal for the long-term budget for the 2021-2027 period. The ERC offers three core grant schemes: starting, consolidator and advanced. Starting grants encourage young talented research leaders to gain independence in Europe and to build their own careers. Consolidator grants back up researchers who want to establish their research teams and continue developing a successful career in Europe. Advanced grants allow outstanding research leaders to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects in Europe. The scheme targets researchers who have already established themselves as top independent research leaders. The next deadlines for the advanced and top-up proof of concept grants are respectively 30 August 2018 and 11 September 2018.