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1.  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
2.  Phylogeography of the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish in the Indian Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43499.
Understanding the limits and population dynamics of closely related sibling species in the marine realm is particularly relevant in organisms that require management. The crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci, recently shown to be a species complex of at least four closely related species, is a coral predator infamous for its outbreaks that have devastated reefs throughout much of its Indo-Pacific distribution.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In this first Indian Ocean-wide genetic study of a marine organism we investigated the genetic structure and inferred the paleohistory of the two Indian Ocean sister-species of Acanthaster planci using mitochondrial DNA sequence analyses. We suggest that the first of two main diversification events led to the formation of a Southern and Northern Indian Ocean sister-species in the late Pliocene-early Pleistocene. The second led to the formation of two internal clades within each species around the onset of the last interglacial. The subsequent demographic history of the two lineages strongly differed, the Southern Indian Ocean sister-species showing a signature of recent population expansion and hardly any regional structure, whereas the Northern Indian Ocean sister-species apparently maintained a constant size with highly differentiated regional groupings that were asymmetrically connected by gene flow.
Past and present surface circulation patterns in conjunction with ocean primary productivity were identified as the processes most likely to have shaped the genetic structure between and within the two Indian Ocean lineages. This knowledge will help to understand the biological or ecological differences of the two sibling species and therefore aid in developing strategies to manage population outbreaks of this coral predator in the Indian Ocean.
PMCID: PMC3424128  PMID: 22927975
3.  Human Impact on Atolls Leads to Coral Loss and Community Homogenisation: A Modeling Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e36921.
We explore impacts on pristine atolls subjected to anthropogenic near-field (human habitation) and far-field (climate and environmental change) pressure. Using literature data of human impacts on reefs, we parameterize forecast models to evaluate trajectories in coral cover under impact scenarios that primarily act via recruitment and increased mortality of larger corals. From surveys across the Chagos, we investigate the regeneration dynamics of coral populations distant from human habitation after natural disturbances. Using a size-based mathematical model based on a time-series of coral community and population data from 1999–2006, we provide hind- and forecast data for coral population dynamics within lagoons and on ocean-facing reefs verified against monitoring from 1979–2009. Environmental data (currents, temperatures) were used for calibration. The coral community was simplified into growth typologies: branching and encrusting, arboresent and massive corals. Community patterns observed in the field were influenced by bleaching-related mortality, most notably in 1998. Survival had been highest in deep lagoonal settings, which suggests a refuge. Recruitment levels were higher in lagoons than on ocean-facing reefs. When adding stress by direct human pressure, climate and environmental change as increased disturbance frequency and modified recruitment and mortality levels (due to eutrophication, overfishing, pollution, heat, acidification, etc), models suggest steep declines in coral populations and loss of community diversification among habitats. We found it likely that degradation of lagoonal coral populations would impact regeneration potential of all coral populations, also on ocean-facing reefs, thus decreasing reef resilience on the entire atoll.
PMCID: PMC3367966  PMID: 22679482
4.  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
5.  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
6.  Climate Warming, Marine Protected Areas and the Ocean-Scale Integrity of Coral Reef Ecosystems 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(8):e3039.
Coral reefs have emerged as one of the ecosystems most vulnerable to climate variation and change. While the contribution of a warming climate to the loss of live coral cover has been well documented across large spatial and temporal scales, the associated effects on fish have not. Here, we respond to recent and repeated calls to assess the importance of local management in conserving coral reefs in the context of global climate change. Such information is important, as coral reef fish assemblages are the most species dense vertebrate communities on earth, contributing critical ecosystem functions and providing crucial ecosystem services to human societies in tropical countries. Our assessment of the impacts of the 1998 mass bleaching event on coral cover, reef structural complexity, and reef associated fishes spans 7 countries, 66 sites and 26 degrees of latitude in the Indian Ocean. Using Bayesian meta-analysis we show that changes in the size structure, diversity and trophic composition of the reef fish community have followed coral declines. Although the ocean scale integrity of these coral reef ecosystems has been lost, it is positive to see the effects are spatially variable at multiple scales, with impacts and vulnerability affected by geography but not management regime. Existing no-take marine protected areas still support high biomass of fish, however they had no positive affect on the ecosystem response to large-scale disturbance. This suggests a need for future conservation and management efforts to identify and protect regional refugia, which should be integrated into existing management frameworks and combined with policies to improve system-wide resilience to climate variation and change.
PMCID: PMC2516599  PMID: 18728776

Results 1-6 (6)