Something from nothing

A coral of the genus Melithaea.
Image: Gary Cranitch


26 May 2010
Sometimes finding nothing can tell you something, according to Catalina Aguilar, a Masters student at the University of Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan.
Catalina is collecting and studying soft coral species of the Melithaeidae family.
This is her first CReefs expedition, but she is comparing the specimens she collects in Ningaloo to those found by her supervisor, Associate Professor James Reimer, on the CReefs Heron Island expedition in November 2009. She will also compare specimens from Australia to those collected in Japan.
"The specimens I have collected here are not as varied as those Jamie brought back from Heron Island," Catalina says.
"There are many different colours and colony shapes within the Melithaeidae family, but here most of the specimens are red or white. I would say there is less diversity in soft corals on Ningaloo Reef than on the Great Barrier Reef," Catalina says.
"This suggests that the high-energy water of the narrow reef at Ningaloo is a less favourable habitat than the wider reef with different tidal layers on the east coast of Australia," she says.
Catalina aims to construct the Melithaeidae phylogeny, and the specimens she collects here will contribute to her understanding of the family.
"There is some description of Melithaeidae species, but no one has put together a full taxonomy of the family, or what relationships the genera have to each other," she says.
The most significant characteristic of Melithaeidae is that they have conspicuous nodes on their branches.
When Catalina takes her specimens back to her university laboratory, she will conduct DNA analyses on all the samples, and describe the morphology of specimens that are most representative for each genus.