Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Super-rare 'elkhorn' coral found in Pacific

29.07.2010
An Australian scientist has discovered what could be the world’s rarest coral in the remote North Pacific Ocean.

The unique Pacific elkhorn coral was found while conducting underwater surveys of Arno atoll in the Marshall Islands, by coral researcher Dr Zoe Richards of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS).

The coral bears a close physical resemblance to the critically endangered and fast-vanishing elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) of the Atlantic Ocean, but genetic analysis has shown it to be a different species.

“When I first saw it, I was absolutely stunned. The huge colonies - five metres across and nearly two metres high with branches like an elk’s antlers - were like nothing I’d seen before in the Pacific Ocean,” Zoe recounts.

“So far I have only found this new population of coral to occur along a small stretch of reef at a single atoll in the Marshalls group,” Zoe explains. “It grows in relatively shallow water along the exposed reef front and, so far, fewer than 200 colonies are known from that small area.”

“The Pacific elkhorn coral has regular divergent blade-like branches that radiate out from single or multiple large central stalks. Its colonies are by far the largest of all the Acropora colonies observed at Arno Atoll, indicating that these are relatively old,” she adds.

Whether the Pacific elkhorn is an entirely new species or not is subject to scientific debate, because Zoe has uncovered that over a century ago, in 1898, a scientist called Gardiner described a coral from the island of Rotuma, near Fiji in the South Pacific whose description fits that of the Pacific elkhorn. “Unfortunately at this stage, we do not have any genetic material of A. rotumana to confirm whether or not it is the same species as the Pacific Elkhorn.”

This finding is of a population of elkhorn coral in the Pacific is of particular scientific interest because it represents one morphological extreme in Acropora, the dominant genus of reef-building corals, the researchers say.

Genetic analysis of the new coral found that its closest relative is Acropora abrotanoides. Zoe considers it possible that A. abrotanoides, the 19th century Fijian coral and the new Pacific elkhorn could turn out to be variants of the same species - but says there aren’t enough data to confirm this, at this point.

The uncertainty surrounding the taxonomic status of the Pacific elkhorn poses a conservation dilemma. To be given threatened species status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more needs to be known about the coral, its population size and it relationships to other coral species.

“Currently the Pacific elkhorn would be rated as ‘data deficient’, meaning there isn’t enough information to determine whether it is threatened, vulnerable or critically endangered,” she explains. This means that the Pacific elkhorn would join 141 other coral species on the IUCN list whose status is uncertain.

However the status of its Atlantic relative, A. palmata is much more certain: regarded by most marine researchers as the outstanding symbol of the plight of Caribbean corals, it is rated as critically endangered after vanishing from most of its Caribbean reef habitat in recent decades.

Zoe says that the current IUCN definitions are unhelpful in terms of the conservation of many rare and newly described corals such as the Pacific elkhorn, adding it is likely that many of the corals classified as ‘data deficient’ are actually at risk of extinction.

“When Zoe showed me pictures of the Pacific elkhorn, I was shocked,” says leading coral geneticist Professor David Miller of CoECRS and James Cook University.

“The colonies look just like the critically endangered Caribbean species A. palmata, one of the most distinctive of all corals. The fact that these colonies might represent a species that has not been seen for over a hundred years (A. rotumana) says something about how much we know about the remote reefs of North Pacific.

“And the fact that it and many other corals don’t qualify as at risk under IUCN criteria is very disappointing. The IUCN seems to be too demanding in terms of the criteria for listing, and we urge they should err on the side of caution in cases like this.”

Zoe’s discovery is reported in the article Archetypal ‘elkhorn’ coral discovered in the Pacific Ocean by Zoe Richards, Carden Wallace and David Miller which appears in the latest edition of the journal Systematics and Biodiversity (2010), 8(2): 281–288.

Pictures of the new Pacific elkhorn coral at: http://www.coralcoe.org.au/

More information:
Dr Zoe Richards, COECRS, ph 0450 545 081
Professor David Miller, CoECRS and JCU, ph 07 4781 4473
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, 07 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, 07 4781 4822 or 0418 892449

Zoe Richards | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.coralcoe.org.au/
http://www.jcu.edu.au

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow
25.07.2017 | Rudolf-Virchow-Zentrum für Experimentelle Biomedizin der Universität Würzburg

nachricht Fungi that evolved to eat wood offer new biomass conversion tool
25.07.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA mission surfs through waves in space to understand space weather

25.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds

25.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow

25.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>