This finding, released by scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, has raised hopes for the ability of the world’s corals to withstand the rigors of changing climates and human impacts, says lead author Zoe Richards.
“Coral reefs worldwide face a variety of marine and land-based threats and hundreds of corals are now on the red list of threatened species. It is often assumed that rare coral species face higher risks of extinction than common species because they have very small effective population sizes, which implies that they may have limited genetic diversity and high levels of inbreeding and therefore be unable to adapt to changing conditions,” Zoe says.
“When we studied some particularly rare species of Acropora (staghorn corals), which you might expect to be highly vulnerable to extinction, we found some of them were actually hybrids – in other words they had cross-bred with other Acropora species. This breaks all the traditional rules about what a species is.” By hybridising with other species, these rare corals draw on genetic variation in other species, increasing their own potential to adapt to changing conditions.
“At this stage how it came about and who the breeding partners are isn’t entirely clear, but what is evident is that rare corals previously thought vulnerable to extinction may have more ability to adapt than initally expected” she explains.
Acropora are the main reef-builders throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and so of critical importance to the ability of reefs to cope with changing conditions. However, till now, very few clear cut examples of hybridisiation were known, and some people did not even accept that corals can cross-breed, Zoe says.
The common Acropora corals occur mainly on reef crests, flats and slopes, whereas several of the rare species occupy more marginal habitats, such as the deeper or extremely shallow water zones where the common species do not grow.
“When we looked at the genetic history of rare corals, we found that they exhibited unexpected patterns of genetic diversity. This suggests that, rather than being the dying remnants of once-common species, they may actually be coral pioneers pushing into new environments and developing new traits by virtue of the interbreeding that has enabled them to survive there.
“This is good news, to the extent that it suggests that corals may have evolved genetic strategies for survival in unusual niches – and may prove tougher to exterminate than many people feared. With such tricks up their sleeve, it is even possible that the rare corals of today could become the common corals of the future.”
Corresponding author Professor David Miller of CoECRS and James Cook University says the discovery is a refreshing piece of good news amid the frequently gloomy reportage about corals nowadays. “One would expect that rare corals would be especially at risk, but we’ve found that some appear to have developed mechanisms for coping with rarity,” he says.
“Hybridising with another species actually makes a lot of genetic sense if you are rare and the next colony of your species may be hundreds of kilometres away. It suggests these creatures are far more resilient that we thought, based on what we know from the behavior of land animals.”
The paper Some Rare Indo-Pacific Coral Species Are Probable Hybrids was published by a team of researchers from CoECRS, James Cook University, the Museum of Tropical Queensland and the Australian Institute of Marine Science in the September issue of the journal PloS One.More information:
Zoe Richards | EurekAlert!
Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University
Climate change: Urban trees are growing faster worldwide
13.11.2017 | Technische Universität München
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
20.11.2017 | Earth Sciences
20.11.2017 | Earth Sciences
20.11.2017 | Life Sciences