Scientists have discovered ‘hidden' coral species diversity by applying a combined approach of DNA analysis, skeleton examination and ecological observations. Their research shows how essential it is to employ multiple methodologies, from molecular to traditional techniques, in understanding coral diversity and evolution. Their research is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society this month.
"We measured the skeletal structure of these species of corals and combined this data with our genetic and molecular analysis. Our results indicate that there are likely to be many more species of coral in our oceans, more than we originally thought," said AIMS researcher, Sebastian Schmidt-Roach.
The team formally revised the taxonomic status of Pocillopora corals, also known as ‘cauliflower corals' found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They also reported the discovery of two new species during their studies. Their research included studying corals on the Great Barrier Reef.
"Coral species can be very difficult to identify. They are not obviously different like most species of mammals, for example. Some corals may interbreed with other species of coral (hybridize) and different species can look the same but be very different, genetically and chemically. That is why information from multiple sources is necessary for studying these animals at a population and species levels" explained Nikos Andreakis, a molecular phylogeneticist at AIMS.
The scientists have now provided information for the identification of eight Pocillopora species, two of them were completely new to science: P.â€‰damicornis, P.â€‰acuta, P.â€‰aliciae, P.â€‰verrucosa, P.â€‰meandrina, P.â€‰eydouxi, P.â€‰cf. brevicornis and Pocillopora bairdi sp. nov..
The study is part of Sebastian Schmidt-Roach's PhD project at AIMS and the University of Tasmania.
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