Hillary Smith
PhD Student

Hillary Smith

Centre for Marine Science and Innovation
Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences

I am a part time PhD student, studying externally based in Townsville. My research interests centre mainly on coral biology, reef ecology, and adaptation to climate change. Using a mixed-methods approach, I investigate the interactions between reef taxa from the cellular to the ecosystem level. My work uses a range of techniques, including molecular biology and genomics, microbial ecology, physiology, macro-ecology, field- and lab-based experiments to understand the relationships between species. Recent work incorporates significant outreach and engagement through citizen science involvement in reef restoration research.

Outside of academia, I am interested in drawing and illustration, sewing, hiking, scuba diving, and loving my rescue dog Tess.

Project: Sea-weeding the reef: manipulating coral-algal interactions for rehabilitation of inshore coral reefs

Supervised by: Suhelen Egan, Adriana Verges, David Bourne

Project Description: Coral reefs worldwide are threatened by a wide range of global and local stressors which act synergistically, leading to the unprecedented decline of these important ecosystems. When corals die, fleshy macroalgae can rapidly establish over large swaths of denuded reef areas, and can lead to a fundamental shift in reef community and function. Once established, a variety of feedback mechanisms maintain macroalgal abundance, with a return of corals rarely observed naturally. While many of the mechanisms that underpin macroalgae regime shifts have been identified, their history, persistence, and the potential to reverse macroalgae dominated systems back to a coral dominated environment are still poorly understood.

My thesis will use a multi-pronged approach to holistically understand the past, present, and future of reefs at Magnetic Island, which serve as models for several inshore reefs experiencing similar declines in coral cover and concomitant increases in macroalgae. I will assess how algae have been considered in historic studies, build improved metrics for measuring algae in a changing environment, test if manual removal of algae positively impacts coral larval dynamics (natural and assisted settlement), determine if algal inhibition of coral recruitment has a physical or biological basis, and determine a threshold value of algae that affect coral larvae. The results from my work will be directly applicable to the management of reefs worldwide.

Smith HA, Prenzlau T, Whitman T, Fulton SE, Borghi S, Logan M, Heron SF, Bourne DG (2022). Macroalgal canopies provide corals limited protection from bleaching and impede post-bleaching recovery. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 553, 151762.

Smith, HA, Boström-Einarsson L, Bourne DG (2022). A stratified transect approach captures reef complexity with canopy-forming organisms. Coral Reefs 41, 897-905.

Smith HA, Brown DA, Arjunwadkar CV, Fulton SE, Whitman T, Hermanto B, Mastroianni E, Mattocks N, Smith AK, Harrison PL, Boström-Einarsson L, McLeod IM, Bourne DG (2022). Removal of macroalgae from degraded reefs enhances coral recruitment. Restoration Ecology, e13624.

Smith HA, Pollock FJ, Conlan J, Francis D, Wada N, Shore A, Aeby GS, Willis BL, & Bourne DG (2020). Energy depletion and opportunistic microbial colonisation in white syndrome lesions from corals across the Indo-Pacific. Scientific Reports 10, 19990.

Smith HA, Moya A, Cantin N, van Oppen MJH, & Torda G (2019). Observations of simultaneous sperm release and larval planulation suggest reproductive assurance in the coral Pocillopora acuta. Frontiers in Marine Science 6, 362.

Smith HA, Epstein H, & Torda G (2017). The molecular basis of differential morphology and bleaching thresholds in two morphs of the coral Pocillopora acuta. Scientific Reports 7, 10066.