By Peter Stone
A Pillar coral at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
In today’s ScienceDaily(Mar. 6, 2009)-Scientists identified seven new species of bamboo coral discovered on a NOAA-funded mission in the deep waters of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is administered jointly by the Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior,and the State of Hawaii and represents a cooperative conservation approach to protecting the entire ecosystem.
Six of these species may represent entirely new genera, a remarkable feat given the broad classification a genus represents. A genus is a major category in the classification of organisms, ranking above a species and below a family. According to Richard Spinrad, Ph.D, NOAA’s assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, these discoveries are important, because deep-sea corals support diverse seafloor ecosystems, and also because these corals may be among the first marine organisms to be affected by ocean acidification. Researchers have seen adverse changes in marine life with calcium-carbonate shells, such as corals, because of acidified ocean water.
Rob Dunbar,a Stanford University scientist, was studying long-term climate data by examining long-lived corals. Dunbar was noted as saying, we found live, 4,000-year-old corals in the Monument, meaning 4,000 years worth of information about what has been going on in the deep ocean interior. The other findings were a five-foot tall yellow bamboo coral tree that had never been described before, new beds of living deepwater coral and sponges, and a giant sponge scientists dubbed the “cauldron sponge,” approximately three feet tall and three feet across. Scientists collected two other sponges which have not yet been analyzed, but may represent new species or genera as well. Skeletal shape is currently used to differentiate coral species. Some corals were genetically indistinguishable despite differing in size and shape, such as branching and massive corals, whereas some corals with similar appearance had deep genetic divergence.
In the ScienceDaily(Feb. 24, 2009)-The evolutionary tendency of corals to alter their skeletal structure makes it difficult to assign them to different species. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology have used genetic markers to examine coral groupings and investigate how these markers relate to alterations in shape, in the process discovering that our inaccurate picture of coral species is compromising our ability to conserve coral reefs. Zac Forsman led a team of researchers from University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology who carried out the molecular studies.
Trees do it. Bees do it. Even environmentally stressed fish do it. But Prof. Yossi Loya from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology is the first in the world to discover that Japanese sea corals engage in “sex switching” too in ScienceDaily (Feb. 20, 2009). His research may provide the key to the survival of fragile sea corals-essential to all life in the ocean-currently threatened by global warming. Corals, though a part of the animal kingdom, can act like plants. Both are sedentary life forms, unable to move when times get tough. In times of stress like extreme hot spells, the female mushroom coral(known as a fungiid coral)switches its sex so that most of the population becomes male. Prof. Loya also notes that this theory probably doesn’t apply to humans, even those who have opted for a sex change.
Besides loading the atmosphere with heat-trapping greenhouse gases, human emissions of carbon dioxide have also begun to alter the chemistry of the ocean-often called the cradle of life on Earth. This acidification of the ocean can damage marine organisms.The authors’research will be very useful in aiding efforts to understand and preserve coral biodiversity. Coral reef destruction, however, is expected to continue as an effect of global warming. Dr. Andrew Baker,co-creator and also a Rosenstiel School faculty, has spent much of his career looking at climate change impacts on corals and has geared his perspective towards understanding whether corals can adapt to any of these changes.
BioMed Central (2009, February 24). Shape-shifting Coral Evade Identification. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬
; /releases/2009/02/090223221343.htm<p>Carnegie Institution (2008, July 6). Acidifying Oceans Add Urgency To Carbon Dioxide Cuts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬
; /releases/2008/07/080703140716.htm<p>National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (2009, March 6). Seven New Species Of Deep-sea Coral Discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬
; /releases/2009/03/090305121657.htm<p>Tel Aviv University (2009, February 20). Japanese Corals Change Sexes On The Sea Floor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬
; /releases/2009/02/090219202833.htm<p>University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (2007, August 23). Corals And Climate Change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬