Dimitris N. Chorafas Foundation Award 2020 – Oliver Selmoni
Seascape genomics as a new tool to empower coral reef conservation strategies
Thesis director: Dr Stéphane Joost
For the importance and the exceptional quality of his research in spatial conservation genomics. For having initiated the consideration of the adaptive potential of corals in their geo-environmental context, and for having thus opened up new research avenues in humanity's fight to preserve coral reefs, which constitute fantastic biodiversity reservoirs on earth.
The future of coral reefs is endangered since anomalous heat waves are causing the death of reef building corals around the world. Without corals the entire reef ecosystem is expected to collapse, threatening the survival of up to one third of marine wildlife. Despite the catastrophic perspectives, a glimmer of hope is brought by corals that persist at reefs exposed to recurrent heat waves. Evolutionary adaptation might underpin these observations. In this thesis, we used an approach at the crossroads between oceanography and genetics (the seascape genomics approach) to study the adaptive potential of corals against heat stress. We explored the coral reefs of Japan and New Caledonia (Southwestern Pacific) and identified coral populations carrying genetic features that could provide resistance to thermal stress. This information will empower coral reef conservation strategies in the years to come.