New coral species from a World Heritage Site

7 Apr 2017. NUS ecologist in collaboration with James Cook University, Australia have discovered a new species of hard coral on the reefs of Lord Howe Island.

Prof HUANG Danwei from the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS, teamed up with Prof Andrew BAIRD and Prof Mia HOOGENBOOM from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University to describe the new species of coral which they had discovered, Cyphastrea salae. Lord Howe Island, located in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, is a World Heritage listed marine protected area. The island is famous for its many highly distinctive plant and animal species. However, the coral fauna remain largely unexplored. 

Equipped with modern genetic tools in Prof Huang’s lab, the team was able to perform DNA sequence analysis to determine genetic variation and identify the new coral species. “Interestingly, Cyphastrea salae looks almost exactly like other closely-related corals. However, its gene sequences are distinct and there is no doubt it is a species that is new to science,” says Prof Huang. “Advances in modern analytical tools have allowed us to uncover and gain insights into new coral species, which are important for maintaining biodiversity and long-term functioning of reef ecosystems.” The team has collected hundreds of specimens from Lord Howe Island to study.

Lord Howe Island lies over 900 km south of the next major area of coral diversity, the Great Barrier Reef. The wide geographical distance across the ocean suggests that the coral populations on Lord Howe are highly isolated. The discovery of this new species suggests that there may be many more new coral species to be discovered.  This increases the conservation significance of Lord Howe Island.

 

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Figure above shows Cyphastrea salae, a new species of coral from Lord Howe Island. [Image credit: Andrew Baird]

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Figure above shows the unique coral reef fauna at Lord Howe Island. [Image credit: Tane SINCLAIR-TAYLOR]

 

Reference

Baird AH; Hoogenboom MO; Huang D, “Cyphastrea salae, a new species of hard coral from Lord Howe Island, Australia (Scleractinia, Merulinidae)”, ZOOKEYS Volume 662 Pages: 49-66 DOI:10.3897/zookeys.662.11454 Published: 2017.