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The first step in protecting the Great Barrier Reef is to understand what lives there

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Attribution: Shutterstock

Take a look at this photo of the two coral skeletons below. You can forgive that they are the same item or at least closely related, but the view can be deceptive. These two species diverged millions of years ago, probably before our human lineage was separated from baboons and macaques.

Scientists have traditionally used mutations (size, shape, color) to identify species and infer their evolutionary history. But most items are described first Nineteenth century, Based solely on the characteristics of the coral skeleton visible under the microscope.

Transformation is important for species identification. The problem is that we do not know whether a particular morphological feature reflects a species lineage, or whether it evolved independently.

Our new study Checked ‘S traditional ideas Coral species And their evolutionary relationships with “phylogenomics“Comparing thousands of DNA sequences across coral species.

Our results revealed that the diversity and distribution of corals is very different from what we previously thought. This shows that we still do not know many basic aspects of corals in the Great Barrier Reef.

After three mass bleaching events in five years, basically means not having a handle Our attempts to intervene Helping corals to survive climate change may have unintended consequences.

The first step in protecting the Great Barrier Reef is to understand what lives there

Skeletons of two stagorn coral species with the same ‘bottle brush’ growth pattern. They may seem similar but have no close relationship with them. Provided by the author

How do we know which item it is?

Although one of them Excellent study Earth’s marine ecosystems, there are basic knowledge gaps around the Great Barrier Reef,

  • How many coral creatures live there?
  • How can they be identified?
  • Where are they found in the vast Great Barrier Reef habitat?

The answer to these questions begins with the exact “taxonomy” – the science of naming and classifying organisms.

It may seem straightforward to identify species based on how similar they are. As Darwin famously stated, closely related species share mutational features because they were inherited from a common ancestor.

However, this can be misleading if two unrelated species acquire similar traits independently. This process, known as convergent evolution, often occurs when different species face similar environmental challenges.

An international team of scientists has developed a new genetic tool that will help them better understand and ultimately protect coral reefs.

A Classic example Of Integrated evolution Dolphins and prehistoric ichthyosaurs. These animals are unrelated, but they both share many similarities as they gain similar ecological space.

At the other end of the spectrum, mutation can vary within a single species. An alien taxonomist visiting the Earth may apologize for describing Chihuahua and the Irish Wolfhound as two different species.

Bring Coral Taxonomy to the 21st Century

We used molecular phylogenetics, a field of research that uses variations in DNA sequences to reproduce genealogy. From corals to humans, Molecular phylogenetics It revolutionized our understanding of the origin and evolution of life on earth.

There are molecular approaches Revolutionary Our understanding of the diversity and evolution of corals sheds light Deep branches “Tree of Life” in coral. However, among the hyper-diverse, ecologically important coral groups, stagorn corals from the genus Acropora, We are still in the dark.

For millions of years, ectosores have dominated the world’s oceans.

Our new technology This is solved by comparing thousands of key regions across the coral genome (the entire genetic code of an organism) to help identify the species in this group for the first time. This method allows us to identify mutant features that reflect shared lineage and identify species during diving. Reef.

About a quarter of the coral species in the Great Barrier Reef are thick-skinned, which provide most of the three-dimensional structure of the fish, and many other coral reefs rely on it as a forest tree.

Unfortunately, stagorn corals are also vulnerable to threats such as thermal bleaching and crown pruning. The future of the rocks will be greatly affected by the future Coral reefs.

Risk of ‘silent extinction’

Although we do not yet know how many coral species there are on the Great Barrier Reef or how widespread they are, it seems that many species have much smaller ranges than we previously thought.

The first step in protecting the Great Barrier Reef is to understand what lives there

Stagorn coral from the Hortman Abrolhos Islands. Attribution: Thomas Bridge, Author

For example, we know that some of the corals on Lord Highway Island are found only on a few rocks in the tropics of eastern Australia. It doesn’t happen anywhere else, Not even on the Great Barrier Reef. They evolved into isolation and bleach Very low temperature Than the corals of tropical rocks.

This means that the corals of Lord Highway Island are far more protected than currently recognized, as a severe bleaching event could lead to the extinction of these species.

One reason behind the Australian Academy of Sciences is the risk of “silent extinction”. Taxonomic Decadal Plan, Which led to the goal of documenting all Australian records Species Over the next 25 years.

Intervening now can have unintended consequences

In April Reef Rehabilitation Institute and Adaptation Program The concept feasibility study identified 160 possible interventions to help protect the Great Barrier Reef. Suggested interventions These include transferring corals from heat to cold water, introducing genetically engineered heat-tolerant corals into the wild, and harvesting and releasing coral larvae.

The first step in protecting the Great Barrier Reef is to understand what lives there

Lord Hay Island is home to some of the southernmost coral reefs in the world. Attribution: Shutterstock

What can go wrong? Well-intentioned interventions may inadvertently threaten Coral Communities, for example, through the introduction or movement of diseases in the Great Barrier Reef. Cane frog A well-known example of unplanned consequences is that they were introduced in the 1930s to control an insect and are now destroying the Australian ecosystem.

A precautionary approach is needed to minimize the possibility of unintended and adverse consequences for any intervention affecting the environment of a complex system such as the Great Barrier Reef.

We need huge investment in basic biodiversity research at this time. Without this information, we would not be able to determine whether specific activities would revive the reef instead of increasing it.

Project Phoenix: DNA opens up a new understanding of coral


This article has been republished Conversation Under the Creative Commons license. Read Original article.Conversation

Source: The first step in protecting the Great Barrier Reef is learning where to live (September 15, 2020) Retrieved September 15, 2020 from

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