Researchers have recently discovered how new species of coral form.
Michael E. Hellberg, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University (LSU) and his graduate student Carlos Prada investigated how corals specialize to certain environments. Corals begin their lifecycles as free-floating larvae which have the ability to float far and wide in open water. In their study they ask, “How can new marine species emerge without obvious geographic isolation?”
Their findings suggest that habitat depth is the answer; the formation of coral species depends on how deep in the ocean the corals grow.
Prada and Hellberg studied different species of sea fans. One sister species has adapted to shallow water while another has adapted to deeper water. They found that the shallow water sea fan had a different structure than its deep water relative. They also found that when they transplanted the shallow water coral into the deep water environment, it began to take on characteristics of the deep water species, and vice versa.
Prada notes that while the corals can take on similar characteristic when transplanted, they cannot completely transform. This suggests that they share a common ancestor, but have since adapted genetically to their specific water depth.
To learn more:
- Read the full article: LSU Professor Discovers How New Corals Species Form in the Ocean
- Find the study, published in PNAS, here: Long prereproductive selection and divergence by depth in a Caribbean candelabrum coral
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