Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Living Corals Thousands Of Years Old Hold Clues To Past Climate Changes

Date:
February 19, 2008
Source:
SeaWeb
Summary:
New research shows that the second most diverse group of hard corals first evolved in the deep sea, and not in shallow waters. This finding contradicts a long-established theory suggesting that corals evolved in shallow water before migrating into deeper habitats. Radiocarbon dating shows that some species have life spans of over 4,000 years.

Black coral. Some deep-water black coral specimens (Leiopathes glaberrima) have life spans in excess of 4,000 years. Some of these corals began growing just a few hundred years after the great pyramids were built and are still alive today.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jerry Carpenter

New research shows that the second most diverse group of hard corals first evolved in the deep sea, and not in shallow waters. Stylasterids, or lace corals, diversified in deep waters before launching at least three successful invasions of shallow water habitats in the past 30 million years. This finding contradicts a long-established theory that suggests corals and other marine animals all evolved in shallow water before migrating into deeper habitats.

"When we look at the DNA and fossils of these animals, we can trace how these transitions from deep water to shallow habitats have popped up in different parts of the family at different points in time," says Alberto Lindner, a coral researcher at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. "We also see this story unfold in which the corals are building skeletal defenses in what looks like a long-running arms race with their predators. Together, it shows us how wrong it is to think of deep-sea ecosystems as being isolated and static."

Regardless of where they evolved, the corals living in these habitats continue to surprise researchers. "Deep-sea corals can be spectacularly long-lived, which makes them critical contributors to our efforts to understand the past," says Brendan Roark, a paleoceanographer at Stanford University. "Our radiocarbon dating shows that some species have life spans of over 4000 years. That means some coral colonies have been alive since Stonehenge was erected. These animals are living antiquities."

Many corals grow their skeletons in a manner similar to tree trunks, laying down growth rings that become historical archives of the water conditions over time. Analyzing the chemical composition of these layers allows researchers to trace changes in ocean circulation and temperature over hundreds to thousands of years. Such historical reconstructions are critical for understanding how climate change occurred in the past, and for making predictions about the future. The coral might further our understanding, for example, of how the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"These organisms are the equivalent of the bristlecone pine in the deep ocean," he said. They are placed in jeopardy not only by coral harvesters but also by deep-sea trawling and long-line fishing. "Clearly a different frame of mind is needed," he said. "It's not a renewable resource."

Roark and his associates found that Gerardia, commonly known as gold coral, can live for at least 2,700 years. It grows in tree-like fashion to several meters in height. Even older is the deep-water black coral Leiopathes glaberrima. Another tree-like skeleton, it has life spans in excess of 4,000 years--some of these corals began growing just a few hundred years after the great pyramids were built in Giza and are still alive today.

Roark's finding on growth rates and longevity also challenge the adequacy of old models upon which the management of deep-sea coral species are based. "Growth rates have been overestimated by an order of magnitude in some fisheries management plans. Our new understanding of the great longevity of some of these species strongly suggests the need for more rigorous measures to ensure their populations are adequately protected."

Research in these habitats is expensive and difficult, often leading to studies that are geographically constrained and impossible to compare. In an attempt to overcome these challenges, J. Murray Roberts of the Scottish Association for Marine Science will unveil plans for a novel international scientific program called the Trans-Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study (TRACES).

The project will be the first to trace the flow of genes and animals across the seafloor communities of an entire ocean basin. TRACES researchers from Canada, the U.S., and the European Union will conduct exploratory cruises across the North Atlantic to study the environmental and ecological history of deep-sea communities beginning in late 2008.

Whereas Lindner's work is concerned with how species evolved in the distant past, the TRACES geneticists are focused on tracking relatively recent changes in populations. Other TRACES researchers will expand upon Roark's work; by collecting a large library of the isotope records stored in coral skeletons, they will be able to study historical climate change and create new models with better resolution than ever before.

"We must cross national boundaries to understand deep-sea coral ecosystems. The only way we can work out how to protect deep-sea corals is to understand how they are distributed and connected," Roberts says. "Since we started work on TRACES we've been amazed at the response of the scientific community. Over 100 scientists are already involved and our first meetings are over-subscribed. Everyone agrees we owe it to future generations to make sure these unique ecosystems are protected by conservation plans based on sound science."

Researchers will discuss these and other new discoveries about deep-sea corals at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Boston, MA,  February 14 and 15.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by SeaWeb. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

SeaWeb. "Living Corals Thousands Of Years Old Hold Clues To Past Climate Changes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080214130404.htm>.
SeaWeb. (2008, February 19). Living Corals Thousands Of Years Old Hold Clues To Past Climate Changes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080214130404.htm
SeaWeb. "Living Corals Thousands Of Years Old Hold Clues To Past Climate Changes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080214130404.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fake Dogs Scare Real Geese from Wis. Park

Fake Dogs Scare Real Geese from Wis. Park

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — Parks officials in Stevens Point, Wisconsin had a fowl problem. Canadian Geese were making a mess of a park, so officials enlisted cardboard versions of man's best friend. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins