How Do New Coral Species Arise?

Written by on February 10, 2013 in Coral Reefs, Marine Life
Eunicea sp.

Eunicea sp. Photo credit: Line1.

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.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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