Crabs help identify coral


An unidentified Cryptochirid from the coral genus Turbinaria. A potential new species of Neotroglocarcinus.
Image: Rob Lasley.

 

Thursday 19 November 2009
 
What has caused some marine biologists to double-take has proven to be a unique way to tell apart different coral species.
 
Florida Museum of Natural History PhD student, Seabird McKeon, has found coral species around Heron Island that look identical in every way – except they play host to different crab species.
 
He said the phenomenon gave biologists a quick and easy way to initially distinguish one coral species from another.
 
Seabird made the discovery with his advisor, curator Gustav Paulay, back at their lab in the United States.
The pair is investigating the symbiosis that exists between crabs and their hosts, primarily mutualism.
 
He said his work was similar to the terrestrial diversity studies carried out in rainforests, which involve measuring the number of host specific insects that lived in different tree species.
 
Those data are then extrapolated to estimate how many insects live in other trees.
 
He said this technique had never been applied to coral reefs.
 
His current research is now in its second year and will continue into his postdoctoral studies.
 
Seabird studies how interspecies relationships create and maintain biodiversity over ecological and evolutionary time.
 
His research focuses on mutualism, where two or more species benefit each other through their interactions, but is increasingly concentrating on the negative side of symbiosis.
 
Seabird contributes to a blog for his lab's field and lab activity, which is at: www.spinelessscience.blogspot.com