Navigation Links
Super-rare 'elkhorn' coral found in Pacific
Date:7/29/2010

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."


'/>"/>

Contact: Zoe Richards
Zoe.Richards@jcu.edu.au
045-054-5081
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Engineered coral pigment helps scientists to observe protein movement
2. Scientists test Moreton Bay as coral lifeboat
3. Scientific coral reef survey to be conducted in Bonaire
4. Study shows cleaner water mitigates climate change effects on Florida Keys coral reefs
5. Scientists call on US to stem ecological impact of trade in coral reef wildlife
6. Discovery of how coral reefs adapt to global warming could aid reef restoration
7. Tracking coral larvae to understand Hawaii reef health
8. Coral transplantation the simple and cheap solution to reef restoration
9. After the oil spill: New research sheds light on coral susceptibility to environmental stress
10. Distressed damsels stress coral reefs
11. Baby corals dance their way home
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/28/2016)... and BANGALORE, India , April 28, ... Systems, a product subsidiary of Infosys (NYSE: INFY ... announced a global partnership that will provide end ... use mobile banking and payment services.      (Logo: ... key innovation area for financial services, but it also plays ...
(Date:4/19/2016)... The new GEZE SecuLogic access ... "all-in-one" system solution for all door components. It can ... door interface with integration authorization management system, and thus ... minimal dimensions of the access control and the optimum ... offer considerable freedom of design with regard to the ...
(Date:4/13/2016)... 13, 2016  IMPOWER physicians supporting Medicaid patients in ... new clinical standard in telehealth thanks to a new ... higi platform, IMPOWER patients can routinely track key health ... mass index, and, when they opt in, share them ... to a local retail location at no cost. By ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... Researchers at the Universita Politecnica delle Marche in ... peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma. Their findings are the subject of a new article on ... biomarkers are signposts in the blood, lung fluid or tissue of mesothelioma patients that ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... -- A person commits a crime, and the detective uses ... criminal down. An outbreak of foodborne illness makes ... uses DNA evidence to track down the bacteria that caused ... not. The FDA has increasingly used a complex, cutting-edge technology ... Put as simply as possible, whole genome sequencing is a ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... June 23, 2016   EpiBiome , a precision ... million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). ... and to advance its drug development efforts, as well ... "SVB has been an incredible strategic partner ... a traditional bank would provide," said Dr. Aeron ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... BEACH, Calif. , June 23, 2016  Blueprint ... new biological discoveries to the medical community, has closed ... co-founder Matthew Nunez . "We have ... us with the capital we need to meet our ... will essentially provide us the runway to complete validation ...
Breaking Biology Technology: