Establishing the Cornell-University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) Marine Research Network through Tropical Marine Virology

Collaboration with Ian Tibbetts, University of Queensland

Tropical marine environments are ecologically sensitive habitats that face pressures from human activities and climate change. This is especially the case than in waters off tropical Australia, which currently experience intense pressures from agricultural and urban nutrient pollution, ocean temperature rise due to climate change, and coastal dredging to facilitate shipping of mineral exports (e.g. Abbot Point Refinery, see: Hence, understanding the biodiversity of tropical marine ecosystems and interactions occurring in these habitats is crucial for guiding management decisions aimed at their conservation.  This proposal seeks to build a research network between Cornell and the University of Queensland, one of Australia’s most prestigious marine research institutions, in tropical marine ecology by targeting viruses and their impacts on ecologically important invertebrate taxa. The proposed activity aimed to establish a research collaboration for understanding tropical invertebrate virology. The Hewson Lab at Cornell University is engaged in research on the diversity and activities of viruses infecting zooplankton and meiofauna (i.e. microscopic crustaceans inhabiting plankton and sediments), and viruses infecting a diverse group of benthic invertebrates, the echinoderms. A key missing aspect to our work thus far is study of viruses in tropical habitats, which for several reasons may represent vastly different relationships between viruses and their hosts. In this project we sought support to work with a zoologist (Ian Tibbetts) at the University of Queensland (UQ) to perform viral surveillance (i.e. inventories of viruses infecting hosts) on key species of zooplankton, meiofauna and echinoderms at two field stations in tropical Australia:  In the Moreton Bay estuary; And in waters adjacent to Heron Island, Capricorn-Bunker Group, Great Barrier Reef.

Work published from this project:

Jackson EW, Pepe-Ranney C, Debenport SJ, Buckley DH, Hewson I (2018) “The microbial landscape of sea star and anatomical and interspecies variability of their microbiome” Frontiers in Microbiology.

Hewson I, Johnson MR, Tibbetts I (2020) “An unconventional flavivirus and other RNA viruses in the sea cucumber (Holothuroidea; Echinodermata) virome” Viruses 12: 1057