How do new species of coral form in the ocean?
The large dispersal potential of coral larvae in open water and the proximity of different species on the ocean floor pose a mystery for researchers
In a recent publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, Hellberg and his graduate student Carlos Prada investigate how corals specialize to particular environments in the ocean.
It is very well known that physical barriers and reproductive isolation can lead to the formation of new species on land, especially among plants and animals with short generation times such as insects and annual plants.
But what drives speciation of marine animals?”
Different coral species share similar geographical locations, with different species often existing only yards apart.
The key to the puzzle appears to be habitat depth in the ocean. In others words, natural selection has led to the formation of different coral species according to how deep in the ocean these different corals grow.
In the case at hand the researchers compared the genes and morphologies of pairs of depth-segregated populations of the candelabrum coral Eunicea flexuosa across the Caribbean. Eunicea is endemic to the Caribbean and all sister species co-occur.
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