A team of Taiwanese and Israeli scientists has found that a genus of soft coral is responsible for building reefs, said Academia Sinica, the nation’s top research institution.
The finding challenges conventional notions of “reef corals,” which basically refer to stony corals, whose aragonite skeletons make up the foundation of coral reefs, it said.
Led by Jeng Ming-shiou (鄭明修), a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Biodiversity Research Center, the study revealed that the fleshy octocoral genus Sinularia can consolidate discrete sclerites into solid reef structures, thus making them reef builders.
Photo provided courtesy of Jeng Ming-shiou
Jeng said the discovery followed a long-term investigation initiated in 1997 on the coral colonies in Nanwan Bay (南灣), in Kenting, where there is a continuous sclerite rock-forming zone in Sinularia colonies. The project involved core-sampling of living colonies for examination of sclerite rocks.
It was found that about 90 percent of sampled Sinularia colonies, representing 22 species, contained significant sclerite rock layers underneath the colony, Jeng said. The team reasoned that soft corals are able to inhabit more -turbid environments than stony corals, and therefore species from the genus Sinularia are capable of secreting material into reef structures in areas where stony coral communities cannot develop.
In addition to Jeng, other members of the team were Huang Hsin-drow (黃興倬) from National Museum of National Science, Dai Chang-fong (戴昌鳳) and Hsio Yi-chen (蕭伊真) from National Taiwan University’s Institute of Oceanography and marine biologist Yehuda Benayahu from Tel Aviv University.
The discovery was published in last month’s issue of the journal Coral Reefs.
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