Scientists have long believed soft corals, one of the many endangered elements of marine life, are only minor contributors to the structure of coral reefs. But that's not true, says new research from Tel Aviv University — and the preservation of soft corals is essential to the health of our seas.
Joint research by Tel Aviv University and the Academia Sinica, the National Museum of Natural Science of Taiwan, and National Taiwan University has revealed that soft corals, like stony corals, are one of the central building blocks of a reef, says Prof. Yehuda Benayahu of TAU's Department of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. A new in-depth analysis of reefs in the South China Sea has revealed that massive parts of the reefs are actually made from cemented microscopic skeletal elements of soft corals termed sclerites.
The finding, which recently appeared in the journal Coral Reefs, challenges conventional knowledge about soft corals and makes their conservation a priority. Like whales, dolphins, and stony corals, soft corals are a critically important component of the marine environment, Prof. Benayahu insists.
Building a home from flesh and bone
Reefs are ecosystems derived from biological organisms. They predominantly consist of cemented stony corals made of calcium carbonate. In contrast, the tissues of soft corals contain sclerites, which look like tiny pins or porcupine needles. In the reefs of Kenting National Park, located in South Taiwan, the researchers discovered that large structures originally believed to be comprised of stony corals were actually deposits of sclerites that been cemented to each other by calcium carbonate over time.
Soft corals were once considered a mere veneer of reefs, says Prof. Benayahu, not unlike a living ocean carpet. Once a soft coral colony disintegrates, the sclerites, each less than 1 millimeter in size, were thought to scatter and simply accumulate on the sea bed along with shells, sea urchin spines, and other smaller materials. But in fact, they are integral throughout the reef ecosystem and provide a home for creatures such as fish, snails, algae and many others.
Outside of the marine environment, soft corals also work to protect our human habitat. Boulders and reef structures made of cemented soft coral sclerites that form near shores act as natural wave breakers, Prof. Benayahu says, protecting land against erosion by the sea or ocean during typhoons or cyclones.
Carbon dioxide burning through our oceans
Not only is soft coral widespread, especially throughout the Indo-Pacific reefs, but it is also extremely rich in biodiversity. The genus Sinularia, the soft coral used in reef building, is composed of about 170 species worldwide. This is more than any stony coral genus, including 130 species of staghorn corals, the most populous. Given its spread and diversity, the group is certainly understudied, Prof. Benayahu says.
Soft coral is in danger of being wiped out of the marine environment. One major culprit is the rising acidity of our oceans, caused by heightened levels of carbon dioxide, says Prof. Benayahu. "As burning oil dissolves into the sea water, the water becomes more acidic, which then dissolves calcareous materials," he warns, including corals whose skeletons are made of calcite.
Soft corals need not only to be protected, but also further studied to understand their role in the entire ecosystem. Questions such as the rate at which soft corals can form reefs, especially as they face environmental challenges such as temperature changes, water acidity, and rising sea levels, still linger.
This investigation was led by Dr. Ming-Shiou Jeng of the Academia Sinica's Biodiversity Research Center, along with colleagues from the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung and National Taiwan University, Taipei.
George Hunka | EurekAlert!
Global threat to primates concerns us all
19.01.2017 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung
Reducing household waste with less energy
18.01.2017 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences