Corals Much Older Than Previously Thought, Study Finds

2016-12-07T08:53:55+00:00 December 7, 2016|
Acropora palmata, also known as Elkhorn coral. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region)

(Click to enlarge) Acropora palmata, also known as Elkhorn coral. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region)

Coral genotypes can survive for thousands of years, possibly making them the longest-lived animals in the world, according to researchers at Penn State, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Dial Cordy & Associates.

(From Phys.org)– The team recently determined the ages of elkhorn corals—Acropora palmata—in Florida and the Caribbean and estimated the oldest genotypes to be over 5,000 years old. The results are useful for understanding how corals will respond to current and future environmental change.

“Our study shows, on the one hand, that some Acropora palmata genotypes have been around for a long time and have survived many , including sea-level changes, storms, sedimentation events and so on,” said Iliana Baums, associate professor of biology, Penn State. “This is good news because it indicates that they can be very resilient. On the other hand, the species we studied is now listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because it has suffered such sharp population declines, indicating that there are limits to how much change even these very resilient corals can handle.”

According to Baums, many people mistake corals for plants or even non-living rocks, but corals actually consist of of individual invertebrate animals living symbiotically with photosynthetic algae.

“Previously, corals have been aged by investigating the skeletons of the colonies or the sizes of the colonies,” she said. “For example, bigger colonies were thought to be older. However many coral species reproduce via fragmentation, in which small pieces break off from large colonies. These pieces look like young corals because they are small, but their genomes are just as old as the big colony from which they broke. Similarly, the big colonies appear younger than their true age because they became smaller during the process of fragmentation.”

Read the full article here: http://phys.org/news/2016-11-corals-older-previously-thought.html#jCp