February 24, 2009
Coral Evades Identification
The evolutionary tendency of corals to alter their skeletal structure makes it difficult to assign them to different species. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology have used genetic markers to examine coral groupings and investigate how these markers relate to alterations in shape, in the process discovering that our inaccurate picture of coral species is compromising our ability to conserve coral reefs.
Zac Forsman led a team of researchers from University of Hawaii at Manoa's Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology who carried out the molecular studies. He said, "Our study represents important progress towards understanding the evolution and biodiversity of corals, and provides a foundation for future work. As coral ecosystems are increasingly threatened, we need to understand how many groups exist that can interbreed rather than judging potential for extinction by just looking at groups according to their shape alone".
The authors' research will be very useful in aiding efforts to understand and preserve coral biodiversity. According to Forsman, "Currently used species definitions are likely to be misleading and confound attempts to identify, understand, and conserve coral biodiversity or to recognize its loss".
* Shape-shifting corals: Molecular markers show morphology is evolutionarily plastic in Porites. Zac H Forsman, Daniel J Barshis, Cynthia L Hunter and Robert J Toonen. BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press)
Image Caption: P. lobata and P. compressa. Credit Zac Forsman.
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