Dr Paul Muir

Dr Paul Muir

Paul Muir is the Collection Manager/ Researcher 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


  • Mesophotic reefs and taxonomy/ genetics of the staghorn corals in collaboration with Dr Pim Bongaerts, University of Queensland on the Deep Reef project, Catlin Seaview Survey.
  • Global distribution patterns and morphological traits of the staghorn corals in collaboration with Dr. David Aguirre, Massey University (New Zealand).
  • Mesophotic corals of northern Australia, particularly the deep inter-reef corals with Dr. Tom Bridge, James Cook University.

Adjunct appointments:

Research Associate, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

Recent publications:

  • Muir, P.R., Wallace C. C., Done, T. and Aguirre, J. D. (2015) Limited scope for latitudinal extension of reef corals. Science 348 (6239): 1135-1138. Links: Full Text Abstract
  • Muir P.R., Wallace, C.C., Bridge T. C. L. and Bongaerts, P. (2015) Diverse Staghorn Coral Fauna on the Mesophotic Reefs of North-East Australia. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0117933. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117933) Link
  • Bongaerts, P., Englebert, N., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Muir, P., Bridge, T. 2013. Cyclone damage at mesophotic depths on Myrmidon Reef (GBR). Coral Reefs  (doi:0.1007/s00338-013-1052-y)
  • Bongaerts P., Kline, D.I., Hoegh-Guldberg, O.,  Bridge, T.C.L., Muir, P.R. and Wallace, C.C. (2011)  Mesophotic coral ecosystems on the walls of Coral Sea Atolls. Coral Reefs (doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0725-7)
  • Bridge, T. C. L.,  Fabricius K. E., Bongaerts P., Wallace C. C., Muir P. R., Done T. J., Webster J. M. (2011) Diversity of Scleractinia and Octocorallia in the mesophotic zone of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Coral Reefs (doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0828-1)
  • Chen, I.-P.,  Tang, C.-Y., Chiou C.-Y., Hsu, J.-H.,  Wei, N.V., Wallace, C. C. , Muir, P., Wu, H., Chen, C. A. (2009) Comparative analyses of coding and noncoding DNA regions indicate that Acropora (Anthozoa: Scleractina) possesses a similar evolutionary tempo of nuclear vs. mitochondrial genomes as in plants. Marine Biotechnology 11: 141–152
  • Englebert, N.,  Bongaerts, P., Muir, P., Hay K.B., Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2014). Deepest zooxanthellate corals of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Marine Biodiversity (doi:10.1007/s12526-014-0221-8)
  • Muir, P.R. & Wallace, C.C. (2007).  An introductory guide to the Acropora or Staghorn corals of the world's coral reefs. Website
  • Richards, Z.T., Garcia, R.A., Wallace, C.C., Rosser, N.L., Muir, P.R. 2015  A Diverse Assemblage of Reef Corals Thriving in a Dynamic Intertidal Reef Setting (Bonaparte Archipelago, Kimberley, Australia). PLoS ONE 10(2): e0117791. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117791) Link
  • Richards, Z.T., Syms,C., Wallace, C.C., Muir, P.R., Willis, B.L. (2013). Multiple occupancy–abundance patterns in staghorn coral communities. Diversity and Distributions, 2013 1–12.
  • Wallace, C.C., Done, B.J., Muir, P.R. (2012) Revision and catalogue of worldwide staghorn corals Acropora and Isopora (Scleractinia: Acroporidae) in the Museum of Tropical Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum - Nature 57: 1-254 Link
  • Wallace, C.C., Phongsuwan, N., Muir, P.R. 2012. A new species of staghorn coral, Acropora sirikitiae sp. nov. (Scleractinia: Astrocoeniina: Acroporidae) from western Thailand. Phuket Marine Biology Center Research Bulletin 71: 117–124
  • Wallace, C.C., Fellegara, I., Muir, P. R. and Harrison, P. L. (2009) Recent and fossil corals of Moreton Bay, S.E. Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum - Nature 54: 1-118 Link
  • Wallace, C. C. ,  Chen, C. A. C. , Fukami, H. and Muir, P. R. (2007) Recognition of separate genera within Acropora based on new morphological, reproductive and genetic evidence from A. togianensis, and elevation of the subgenus Isopora Studer, 1878 to genus (Scleractinia: Astrocoeniidae; Acroporidae).  Coral Reefs 26: 231-239.
  • Wallace, C. C., Muir P. R., Venkatesh, M. (2007) Post-bleaching renewal of the dominant reef-building coral species Acropora abrotanoides in the Lakshadweep islands of India. Coral Reefs 26: 45




Affiliate Researcher: Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

Coral Taxonomist: Catlin Seaview Survey

Research Officer, Collection manager, Biodiversity Program, Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville


PhD, James Cook University 1990