Researchers from the United States, Brazil, Taiwan and Japan revealed significant flaws in the widely accepted taxonomy of Pacific and Atlantic corals. In the Feb. 26 issue of the journal Nature, a group led by Nancy Knowlton of Scripps Institution describes using DNA analysis techniques to uncover a significant, previously undetected divergence between Pacific and Atlantic corals.
Unexpectedly, the researchers found that about one-third of Atlantic corals, which had been conventionally classified in two distinct families found around the tropics, in fact are very closely related to each other but are very different from corals that were assumed to be their Pacific relatives. In fact, the researchers found the Atlantic corals are distinct enough to constitute their own family, the first such high-level grouping unique to the Atlantic. Several currently recognized Pacific "families" mostly likely don't deserve such a distinction and should be reclassified under other families, according to the authors.
The DNA results are contrary to accepted classifications based on the evolutionary form and structure, or "morphology," of corals. Calculating when this Atlantic lineage originated is difficult, since the results now call into question the identity of many fossilized corals. However the best records indicate that the dominant Atlantic and Pacific lineages probably separated more than 34 million years ago.
The Nature study's authors argue that the results carry implications beyond the upheaval and realignment of coral classificati
Contact: Mario Aguilera or Cindy Clark
University of California - San Diego