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1.  Identification of Scleractinian Coral Recruits Using Fluorescent Censusing and DNA Barcoding Techniques 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107366.
The identification of coral recruits has been problematic due to a lack of definitive morphological characters being available for higher taxonomic resolution. In this study, we tested whether fluorescent detection of coral recruits used in combinations of different DNA-barcoding markers (cytochrome oxidase I gene [COI], open reading frame [ORF], and nuclear Pax-C intron [PaxC]) could be useful for increasing the resolution of coral spat identification in ecological studies. One hundred and fifty settlement plates were emplaced at nine sites on the fringing reefs of Kenting National Park in southern Taiwan between April 2011 and September 2012. A total of 248 living coral spats and juveniles (with basal areas ranging from 0.21 to 134.57 mm2) were detected on the plates with the aid of fluorescent light and collected for molecular analyses. Using the COI DNA barcoding technique, 90.3% (224/248) of coral spats were successfully identified into six genera, including Acropora, Isopora, Montipora, Pocillopora, Porites, and Pavona. PaxC further separated I. cuneata and I. palifera of Isopora from Acropora, and ORF successfully identified the species of Pocillopora (except P. meandrina and P. eydouxi). Moreover, other cnidarian species such as actinarians, zoanthids, and Millepora species were visually found using fluorescence and identified by COI DNA barcoding. This combination of existing approaches greatly improved the taxonomic resolution of early coral life stages, which to date has been mainly limited to the family level based on skeletal identification. Overall, this study suggests important improvements for the identification of coral recruits in ecological studies.
PMCID: PMC4161427  PMID: 25211345
2.  Critical research needs for identifying future changes in Gulf coral reef ecosystems 
Marine pollution bulletin  2013;72(2):406-416.
Expert opinion was assessed to identify current knowledge gaps in determining future changes in Arabian/ Persian Gulf (thereafter ‘Gulf’) coral reefs. Thirty-one participants submitted 71 research questions that were peer-assessed in terms of scientific importance (i.e., filled a knowledge gap and was a research priority) and efficiency in resource use (i.e., was highly feasible and ecologically broad). Ten research questions, in six major research areas, were highly important for both understanding Gulf coral reef ecosystems and also an efficient use of limited research resources. These questions mirrored global evaluations of the importance of understanding and evaluating biodiversity, determining the potential impacts of climate change, the role of anthropogenic impacts in structuring coral reef communities, and economically evaluating coral reef communities. These questions provide guidance for future research on coral reef ecosystems within the Gulf, and enhance the potential for assessment and management of future changes in this globally significant region.
PMCID: PMC4118590  PMID: 23643407
Persian Gulf; Arabian Gulf; Coral Reefs; Expert; Assessment; Research Gap
3.  Mitochondrial Genome Rearrangements in the Scleractinia/Corallimorpharia Complex: Implications for Coral Phylogeny 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2014;6(5):1086-1095.
Corallimorpharia is a small Order of skeleton-less animals that is closely related to the reef-building corals (Scleractinia) and of fundamental interest in the context of understanding the potential impacts of climate change in the future on coral reefs. The relationship between the nominal Orders Corallimorpharia and Scleractinia is controversial—the former is either the closest outgroup to the Scleractinia or alternatively is derived from corals via skeleton loss. This latter scenario, the “naked coral” hypothesis, is strongly supported by analyses based on mitochondrial (mt) protein sequences, whereas the former is equally strongly supported by analyses of mt nucleotide sequences. The “naked coral” hypothesis seeks to link skeleton loss in the putative ancestor of corallimorpharians with a period of elevated oceanic CO2 during the Cretaceous, leading to the idea that these skeleton-less animals may be harbingers for the fate of coral reefs under global climate change. In an attempt to better understand their evolutionary relationships, we examined mt genome organization in a representative range (12 species, representing 3 of the 4 extant families) of corallimorpharians and compared these patterns with other Hexacorallia. The most surprising finding was that mt genome organization in Corallimorphus profundus, a deep-water species that is the most scleractinian-like of all corallimorpharians on the basis of morphology, was much more similar to the common scleractinian pattern than to those of other corallimorpharians. This finding is consistent with the idea that C. profundus represents a key position in the coral <-> corallimorpharian transition.
PMCID: PMC4040992  PMID: 24769753
naked coral hypothesis; gene order; mitochondrial genome; coral evolution
4.  The “Naked Coral” Hypothesis Revisited – Evidence for and Against Scleractinian Monophyly 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94774.
The relationship between Scleractinia and Corallimorpharia, Orders within Anthozoa distinguished by the presence of an aragonite skeleton in the former, is controversial. Although classically considered distinct groups, some phylogenetic analyses have placed the Corallimorpharia within a larger Scleractinia/Corallimorpharia clade, leading to the suggestion that the Corallimorpharia are “naked corals” that arose via skeleton loss during the Cretaceous from a Scleractinian ancestor. Scleractinian paraphyly is, however, contradicted by a number of recent phylogenetic studies based on mt nucleotide (nt) sequence data. Whereas the “naked coral” hypothesis was based on analysis of the sequences of proteins encoded by a relatively small number of mt genomes, here a much-expanded dataset was used to reinvestigate hexacorallian phylogeny. The initial observation was that, whereas analyses based on nt data support scleractinian monophyly, those based on amino acid (aa) data support the “naked coral” hypothesis, irrespective of the method and with very strong support. To better understand the bases of these contrasting results, the effects of systematic errors were examined. Compared to other hexacorallians, the mt genomes of “Robust” corals have a higher (A+T) content, codon usage is far more constrained, and the proteins that they encode have a markedly higher phenylalanine content, leading us to suggest that mt DNA repair may be impaired in this lineage. Thus the “naked coral” topology could be caused by high levels of saturation in these mitochondrial sequences, long-branch effects or model violations. The equivocal results of these extensive analyses highlight the fundamental problems of basing coral phylogeny on mitochondrial sequence data.
PMCID: PMC3989238  PMID: 24740380
5.  Can resistant coral-Symbiodinium associations enable coral communities to survive climate change? A study of a site exposed to long-term hot water input 
PeerJ  2014;2:e327.
Climate change has led to a decline in the health of corals and coral reefs around the world. Studies have shown that, while some corals can cope with natural and anthropogenic stressors either through resistance mechanisms of coral hosts or through sustainable relationships with Symbiodinium clades or types, many coral species cannot. Here, we show that the corals present in a reef in southern Taiwan, and exposed to long-term elevated seawater temperatures due to the presence of a nuclear power plant outlet (NPP OL), are unique in terms of species and associated Symbiodinium types. At shallow depths (<3 m), eleven coral genera elsewhere in Kenting predominantly found with Symbiodinium types C1 and C3 (stress sensitive) were instead hosting Symbiodinium type D1a (stress tolerant) or a mixture of Symbiodinium type C1/C3/C21a/C15 and Symbiodinium type D1a. Of the 16 coral genera that dominate the local reefs, two that are apparently unable to associate with Symbiodinium type D1a are not present at NPP OL at depths of <3 m. Two other genera present at NPP OL and other locations host a specific type of Symbiodinium type C15. These data imply that coral assemblages may have the capacity to maintain their presence at the generic level against long-term disturbances such as elevated seawater temperatures by acclimatization through successful association with a stress-tolerant Symbiodinium over time. However, at the community level it comes at the cost of some coral genera being lost, suggesting that species unable to associate with a stress-tolerant Symbiodinium are likely to become extinct locally and unfavorable shifts in coral communities are likely to occur under the impact of climate change.
PMCID: PMC3994648  PMID: 24765567
Climate change; Coral reefs; Acclimatization; Nuclear power plant; Symbiodinium type D1a
6.  DNA Barcoding of Shark Meats Identify Species Composition and CITES-Listed Species from the Markets in Taiwan 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79373.
An increasing awareness of the vulnerability of sharks to exploitation by shark finning has contributed to a growing concern about an unsustainable shark fishery. Taiwan’s fleet has the 4th largest shark catch in the world, accounting for almost 6% of the global figures. Revealing the diversity of sharks consumed by Taiwanese is important in designing conservation plans. However, fins make up less than 5% of the total body weight of a shark, and their bodies are sold as filets in the market, making it difficult or impossible to identify species using morphological traits.
In the present study, we adopted a DNA barcoding technique using a 391-bp fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene to examine the diversity of shark filets and fins collected from markets and restaurants island-wide in Taiwan.
Amongst the 548 tissue samples collected and sequenced, 20 major clusters were apparent by phylogenetic analyses, each of them containing individuals belonging to the same species (most with more than 95% bootstrap values), corresponding to 20 species of sharks. Additionally, Alopias pelagicus, Carcharhinus falciformis, Isurus oxyrinchus, and Prionace glauca consisted of 80% of the samples we collected, indicating that these species might be heavily consumed in Taiwan. Approximately 5% of the tissue samples used in this study were identified as species listed in CITES Appendix II, including two species of Sphyrna, C. longimanus and Carcharodon carcharias.
DNA barcoding provides an alternative method for understanding shark species composition when species-specific data is unavailable. Considering the global population decline, stock assessments of Appendix II species and highly consumed species are needed to accomplish the ultimate goal of shark conservation.
PMCID: PMC3832526  PMID: 24260209
7.  DNA barcoding reveals the coral “laboratory-rat”, Stylophora pistillata encompasses multiple identities 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:1520.
Stylophora pistillata is a widely used coral “lab-rat” species with highly variable morphology and a broad biogeographic range (Red Sea to western central Pacific). Here we show, by analysing Cytochorme Oxidase I sequences, from 241 samples across this range, that this taxon in fact comprises four deeply divergent clades corresponding to the Pacific-Western Australia, Chagos-Madagascar-South Africa, Gulf of Aden-Zanzibar-Madagascar, and Red Sea-Persian/Arabian Gulf-Kenya. On the basis of the fossil record of Stylophora, these four clades diverged from one another 51.5-29.6 Mya, i.e., long before the closure of the Tethyan connection between the tropical Indo-West Pacific and Atlantic in the early Miocene (16–24 Mya) and should be recognised as four distinct species. These findings have implications for comparative ecological and/or physiological studies carried out using Stylophora pistillata as a model species, and highlight the fact that phenotypic plasticity, thought to be common in scleractinian corals, can mask significant genetic variation.
PMCID: PMC3605610  PMID: 23519209
8.  Coverage, Diversity, and Functionality of a High-Latitude Coral Community (Tatsukushi, Shikoku Island, Japan) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54330.
Seawater temperature is the main factor restricting shallow-water zooxanthellate coral reefs to low latitudes. As temperatures increase, coral species and perhaps reefs may move into higher-latitude waters, increasing the chances of coral reef ecosystems surviving despite global warming. However, there is a growing need to understand the structure of these high-latitude coral communities in order to analyze their future dynamics and to detect any potential changes.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The high-latitude (32.75°N) community surveyed was located at Tatsukushi, Shikoku Island, Japan. Coral cover was 60±2% and was composed of 73 scleractinian species partitioned into 7 functional groups. Although only 6% of species belonged to the ‘plate-like’ functional group, it was the major contributor to species coverage. This was explained by the dominance of plate-like species such as Acropora hyacinthus and A. solitaryensis. Comparison with historical data suggests a relatively recent colonization/development of A. hyacinthus in this region and a potential increase in coral diversity over the last century. Low coverage of macroalgae (2% of the benthic cover) contrasted with the low abundance of herbivorous fishes, but may be reasonably explained by the high density of sea urchins (12.9±3.3 individuals m−2).
The structure and composition of this benthic community are relatively remarkable for a site where winter temperature can durably fall below the accepted limit for coral reef development. Despite limited functionalities and functional redundancy, the current benthic structure might provide a base upon which a reef could eventually develop, as characterized by opportunistic and pioneer frame-building species. In addition to increasing seawater temperatures, on-going management actions and sea urchin density might also explain the observed state of this community. A focus on such ‘marginal’ communities should be a priority, as they can provide important insights into how tropical corals might cope with environmental changes.
PMCID: PMC3544760  PMID: 23342135
9.  Molecular Evidence Shows Low Species Diversity of Coral-Associated Hydroids in Acropora Corals 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50130.
A novel symbiosis between scleractinians and hydroids (Zanclea spp.) was recently discovered using taxonomic approaches for hydroid species identification. In this study, we address the question whether this is a species-specific symbiosis or a cosmopolitan association between Zanclea and its coral hosts. Three molecular markers, including mitochondrial 16S and nuclear 28S ribosomal genes, and internal transcribed spacer (ITS), were utilized to examine the existence of Zanclea species from 14 Acropora species and 4 other Acroporidae genera including 142 coral samples collected from reefs in Kenting and the Penghu Islands, Taiwan, Togian Island, Indonesia, and Osprey Reef and Orpheus Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Molecular phylogenetic analyses of the 16S and 28S genes showed that Acropora-associated Zanclea was monophyletic, but the genus Zanclea was not. Analysis of the ITS, and 16S and 28S genes showed either identical or extremely low genetic diversity (with mean pairwise distances of 0.009 and 0.006 base substitutions per site for the 16S and 28S genes, respectively) among Zanclea spp. collected from diverse Acropora hosts in different geographic locations, suggesting that a cosmopolitan and probably genus-specific association occurs between Zanclea hydroids and their coral hosts.
PMCID: PMC3510231  PMID: 23209655
10.  Recurrent Disturbances and the Degradation of Hard Coral Communities in Taiwan 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e44364.
Recurrent disturbances can have a critical effect on the structure and function of coral reef communities. In this study, long-term changes were examined in the hard coral community at Wanlitung, in southern Taiwan, between 1985 and 2010. In this 26 year interval, the reef has experienced repeated disturbances that include six typhoons and two coral-bleaching events. The frequency of disturbance has meant that species susceptible to disturbance, such as those in the genus Acropora and Montipora have almost disappeared from the reef. Indeed, almost all hard coral species have declined in abundance, with the result that total hard coral cover in 2010 (17.7%) was less than half what it was in 1985 (47.5%). In addition, macro-algal cover has increased from 11.3% in 2003 to 28.5% in 2010. The frequency of disturbance combined with possible chronic influence of a growing human population mean that a diverse reef assemblage is unlikely to persist on this reef into the future.
PMCID: PMC3431363  PMID: 22952967
11.  Diversity and Distribution of Symbiodinium Associated with Seven Common Coral Species in the Chagos Archipelago, Central Indian Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e35836.
The Chagos Archipelago designated as a no-take marine protected area in 2010, lying about 500 km south of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, has a high conservation priority, particularly because of its fast recovery from the ocean-wide massive coral mortality following the 1998 coral bleaching event. The aims of this study were to examine Symbiodinium diversity and distribution associated with scleractinian corals in five atolls of the Chagos Archipelago, spread over 10,000 km 2. Symbiodinium clade diversity in 262 samples of seven common coral species, Acropora muricata, Isopora palifera, Pocillopora damicornis, P. verrucosa, P. eydouxi, Seriatopora hystrix, and Stylophora pistillata were determined using PCR-SSCP of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer 1 (ITS1), PCR-DDGE of ITS2, and phylogenetic analyses. The results indicated that Symbiodinium in clade C were the dominant symbiont group in the seven coral species. Our analysis revealed types of Symbiodinium clade C specific to coral species. Types C1 and C3 (with C3z and C3i variants) were dominant in Acroporidae and C1 and C1c were the dominant types in Pocilloporidae. We also found 2 novel ITS2 types in S. hystrix and 1 novel ITS2 type of Symbiodinium in A. muricata. Some colonies of A. muricata and I. palifera were also associated with Symbiodinium A1. These results suggest that corals in the Chagos Archipelago host different assemblages of Symbiodinium types then their conspecifics from other locations in the Indian Ocean; and that future research will show whether these patterns in Symbiodinium genotypes may be due to local adaptation to specific conditions in the Chagos.
PMCID: PMC3342320  PMID: 22567113
12.  Mitochondrial and Nuclear Genes Suggest that Stony Corals Are Monophyletic but Most Families of Stony Corals Are Not (Order Scleractinia, Class Anthozoa, Phylum Cnidaria) 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(9):e3222.
Modern hard corals (Class Hexacorallia; Order Scleractinia) are widely studied because of their fundamental role in reef building and their superb fossil record extending back to the Triassic. Nevertheless, interpretations of their evolutionary relationships have been in flux for over a decade. Recent analyses undermine the legitimacy of traditional suborders, families and genera, and suggest that a non-skeletal sister clade (Order Corallimorpharia) might be imbedded within the stony corals. However, these studies either sampled a relatively limited array of taxa or assembled trees from heterogeneous data sets. Here we provide a more comprehensive analysis of Scleractinia (127 species, 75 genera, 17 families) and various outgroups, based on two mitochondrial genes (cytochrome oxidase I, cytochrome b), with analyses of nuclear genes (ß-tubulin, ribosomal DNA) of a subset of taxa to test unexpected relationships. Eleven of 16 families were found to be polyphyletic. Strikingly, over one third of all families as conventionally defined contain representatives from the highly divergent “robust” and “complex” clades. However, the recent suggestion that corallimorpharians are true corals that have lost their skeletons was not upheld. Relationships were supported not only by mitochondrial and nuclear genes, but also often by morphological characters which had been ignored or never noted previously. The concordance of molecular characters and more carefully examined morphological characters suggests a future of greater taxonomic stability, as well as the potential to trace the evolutionary history of this ecologically important group using fossils.
PMCID: PMC2528942  PMID: 18795098

Results 1-12 (12)