Friday, 19 October 2012

New species of cave dwelling reef coral discovered

New cave-dwelling reef coral sheds light on coral-algal symbiosis
October 2012. Its closest relatives are larger, have symbiotic algae in their soft tissue and need sunlight to grow. The new species has no such algae and its tissue is colourless. When other reef coral species lose their algae, they may die, a recurring disease known as coral bleaching.
Coral specialist Dr. Bert W. Hoeksema of Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in Leiden, (The Netherlands) recently published the description of a new coral species that lives on the ceilings of caves in Indo-Pacific coral reefs. It differs from its closest relatives by its small polyp size and by the absence of symbiotic algae, so-called zooxanthellae.
Symbiotic relationship
This discovery sheds new light on the relation of reef corals with symbiotic algae. The new species has adapted to a life without them. Consequently, it may not grow fast, which would be convenient because space is limited on cave ceilings. 

Reef corals in shallow tropical seas normally need the symbiotic algae for their survival and growth. Without these algae, many coral reefs would not exist. During periods of elevated seawater temperature most reef corals lose their algae, which leads to a dramatic whitening of the reefs, a coral disease known as bleaching.

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