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New study reveals coral reefs may support much more biodiversity than previously thought
Date:11/2/2011

Smithsonian scientists and colleagues conducted the first DNA barcoding survey of crustaceans living on samples of dead coral taken from the Indian, Pacific and Caribbean oceans. The results suggest that the diversity of organisms living on the world's coral reefs is seriously underestimated. The team's research "The Diversity of Coral Reefs: What Are We Missing?" was published in October in the journal PLoS ONE.

At depths of 26 to 39 feet, the scientists collected dead coral from five different locations. At two sites where removing coral is prohibited, the scientists collected man-made sampling devices that had been left in the water for one year. Combined, the coral and devices had a surface area of just 6.3 square meters (20.6 square feet), yet 525 different species of crustaceans were found living on them.

"So much diversity in such a small, limited sample area shows that the diversity of crustaceans in the world's coral reefs -- and by implication the diversity of reefs overall -- is seriously under-detected and underestimated," said Nancy Knowlton, the Sant Chair for Ocean Science at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and co-author of the survey. "We found almost as many crabs in 6.3-square meters of coral as can be found in all of the seas of Europe. Compared to the results of much longer and labor-intensive surveys, we found a surprisingly large percentage of species with a fraction of the effort."

The world's coral reefs are some of the most endangered habitats on Earth. Given coral's rapid decline and global range, DNA barcoding offered the scientists a quick and efficient method for their survey. "DNA barcoding provides a standardized, cost-effective method of coming to grips with the staggering diversity of the world's oceans," Knowlton said. "It has enormous potential for use in broad global surveys, allowing us to find out what is living in the ocean now, and to keep track of it in the fu
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Contact: John Gibbons
gibbonsjp@si.edu
202-633-5187
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert  

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