One of the greatest mysteries of modern coral reefs is how they evolved from ancient corals. A critical knowledge gap has long existed in the record of coral evolution. This evolutionary gap occurs during a period of dramatic fluctuations in sea level and changes in the Earth's climate between 1 and 2 million years ago. During this period many "old" corals went extinct, and the modern reef corals emerged. To fill this key temporal gap and understand the evolutionary and ecological transition to modern Caribbean reefs, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded a University of Miami (UM) project to study corals along the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. It is one of the few areas that contain a record of coral reefs from this period of climatic change.
"Our preliminary fieldwork has indicated that the Dominican Republic contains rocks that bridge this critical reef evolution gap," said James Klaus, lead investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, at the UM College of Arts and Sciences. "The Dominican Republic is a valuable site because it was submerged for a long period of time, and has now been uplifted to make the coral-rich deposits accessible."
The NSF grant is $250,000 for two years. During that time, the team will work to pinpoint the evolutionary transition from the now extinct coral Stylophora, to modern reefs dominated by the genus Acropora (staghorn and elkhorn corals) and evaluate how reef ecosystems respond to climate change.
"These corals work in concert to construct the reef edifice, and just below the living surface form the underlying limestone rock," says co-investigator Ali Pourmand, assistant professor in the Division of Marine Geology & Geophysics, at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "To geologists and paleontologists, these limestones represent just the latest growth, and what lies beneath may provide clues to both the past an
|Contact: Annette Gallagher|
University of Miami