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Dr Paul Muir

Dr Paul MuirPaul Muir is the Collection Manager and coral researcher at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville and has research interests in mesophotic (deep reef) corals, coral bleaching, 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 and has expertise in the “staghorn corals” (genera Acropora and Isopora). The staghorns are the main group of reef corals across much of the Indo-Pacific and the museum collection has over 30 000 specimens collected from reef areas around the world. They are particularly vulnerable to human impacts and over 90% of their populations have been lost from Caribbean Reefs. Identification of these corals is particularly challenging and just a few researchers around the world can accurately identify the 122 species in the group.     

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, Paul led a group of researchers who  determined a fundamental factor underlying reef coral distributions (light levels 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.

Paul recently led a group funded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature documenting how coral bleaching varies widely between closely related coral species, but consistently decreases in deeper water. He is also investigating Queensland’s mesophotic corals – those at the limits of coral growth at depths of 30 to 130 m, funded by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey (“Google Streetview goes underwater”) and with 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 the researchers found surprisingly high coral diversity at depth. Much of Paul’s work suggests that deep reef areas hold some promise as a refuge for corals during bleaching and severe cyclones. Surviving deep corals are likely to prevent some extinctions and loss of coral diversity and may speed the recovery of damaged reefs by providing larvae to ‘reseed’ shallow habitats.    

He is also keen programmer and has created a website to promote knowledge of the staghorn corals:


  • 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., Pichon, M., Bongaerts, P. (in press) High species richness and lineage diversity of reef corals in the mesophotic zone. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

  • Muir, P. R. Pichon, M. (in press) Scleractinian corals: Biodiversity in Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (ed. Loya, Y. ) Springer.

  • Muir, P.R., Marshall, P. A., Abdullah, A., Aguirre, D. J. (2017) Species identity and depth predict bleaching severity in reef building corals: Shall the deep inherit the reef? Proceedings of the Royal Society B 284: 20171551. 

  • Muir, P. R., Pichon, M., Squire, L., Wallace, C. C. (2018) Acropora tenella, a zooxanthellate coral extending to 110 m depth in the northern Coral Sea. Marine Biodiversity

  • Muir, P. R., Wallace, C. C., Done, T., Aguirre, J. D. (2017) Response to letter regarding “Limited Scope for Latitudinal Extension of Reef Corals”. Frontiers of Biogeography 8.4, e32349. 

  • Englebert, N., Bongaerts, P., Muir, P., Hay, K., Pichon, M., Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2017) Lower mesophotic coral communities (60-125 m depth) of the northern Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. PLoSONE 12(2): e0170336. 

  • Muir, P. R., Wallace, C. C. (2015) A rare ‘deep-water’ coral assemblage in a shallow lagoon in Micronesia. Marine Biodiversity 46: 543. doi:10.1007/s12526-015-0419-4 

  • 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