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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coral reefs 'cradles' for new species

A school of Pennant coralfish, Pyramid and Millet butterflyfishes, and others at the Rapture Reef, French Frigate Shoals; Source of image: Wikipedia: Coral Reef

"Coral reefs are recognized as important habitat for preserving the diversity of ocean species, but scientists now say reefs are important sources of new species, as well."

"Reefs are known to harbour a great variety and number of fish and invertebrate species, but ecologists haven't been sure whether they migrated to reef environments or originated there."

"Now researchers in Germany and the U.S. have scoured a fossil database for invertebrate animals that lived on the ocean floor since the Cambrian period, which began more than 540 million years ago."

"They compared the number of new species that first appeared in the fossil record in coral reefs and in other ocean bottom environments."

"They found that nearly 22 per cent of ocean floor species first appeared in reefs, and that new species were 45 per cent more likely to have originated in reefs than outside reefs."

"Wolfgang Kiessling and colleagues at Berlin's Humboldt University and the University of Chicago described reefs as "cradles of evolution" in their scientific paper, published this week in the journal Science."

Dr.Kiessling works at the Museum für Naturkunde
Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity
at the Humboldt University Berlin


Here is some additional interesting information about coral reefs I was able to find on the internet:

"Coral reefs most commonly live in tropical waters, but deep water and cold water corals exist on a much smaller scale."

"Coral reefs are estimated to cover 284,300 square kilometers (109,800 sq mi), with the Indo-Pacific region (including the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific) accounting for 91.9% of the total. Southeast Asia accounts for 32.3% of that figure, while the Pacific including Australia accounts for 40.8%. Atlantic and Caribbean coral reefs only account for 7.6%."

"Coral reefs are rare along the American west coast, as well as along the African west coast. This is due primarily to upwelling and strong cold coastal currents that reduce water temperatures in these areas (respectively the Peru, Benguela and Canary streams).Corals are seldom found along the coastline of South Asia from the eastern tip of India (Madras) to the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar. They are also rare along the coast around north-eastern South America and Bangladesh due to the freshwater release from the Amazon and Ganges Rivers respectively."

"Coral consists of accumulations of individual organisms called polyps,arranged in diverse shapes. Reefs grow as polyps along with other organisms deposit calcium carbonate, the basis of coral, as a skeletal structure beneath and around themselves, pushing the coral's "head" or polyps upwards and outwards. Waves, grazing fish (such as parrotfish), sea urchins, sponges, and other forces and organisms break down coral skeletons into fragments that settle into spaces in the reef structure. Many other organisms living in the reef community contribute skeletal calcium carbonate in the same manner. Coralline algae are important contributors to reef structure in those parts of the reef subjected to the greatest forces by waves (such as the reef front facing the open ocean). These algae deposit limestone in sheets over the reef surface, thereby strengthening it."


According to the website:,

"Coral reefs have existed on the planet for approximately 450 million years. Geological evidence, as represented in the fossil record, shows that ancient coral reefs were as complex an ecosystem as modern day reefs.

"Present day reefs are considered one of the two most productive natural systems in the world, the other being the tropical rain forests. Both these systems are currently at risk as a result of excessive and negligent use. Coral reefs are increasing in economic value and must be protected. Understanding and care will ensure their survival."

"Coral reefs are the largest natural structures in the world. They are the result of a remarkable relationship between coral animals, known as polyps, and microscopic algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues."

According to the website:  "A Guide to protecting Coral reefs" which you can access by going to: ,

"Coral reef ecosystems deserve special attention within the scope of global efforts to protect our natural heritage. They play an important role in sustaining biological diversity, global biogeochemical cycles, and the economies of many countries. Despite these values, many coral reefs around the world are being rapidly degraded. The complex, rock-like reef framework provides a living sheltering place and feeding ground for the multitudes of organisms that inhabit the reef. The process of reef formation is heavily dependent upon photosynthesis by reef-building organisms; hence, phytoplankton blooms, sediment and other factors that decrease the amount of light available to corals and calcifying algae are inimical to reef growth."

 "Because of their high rates of calcification, coral reefs play a major role in the global calcium cycle despite their limited areal extent, fixing about half of all the calcium entering the sea into calcium carbonate.Calcification by corals make reefs among the best recorders of marine environmental conditions such as sea level, siltation, and temperature over a variety of time scales, ranging from one year to thousands of years.Coral reefs often occur near land, and exchange energy and materials (e.g., nutrients and carbon) with mangrove forests and seagrass meadows. While coral reefs are sensitive to environmental changes, they appear to be able to recover effectively from physical disturbance or temporary pollution events provided that water quality is generally high.Since coral reefs depend on photosynthesis for survival, relatively clear water is needed for optimal coral reef development. Waters in and around coral reefs are characteristically very low in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Low nutrient conditions are needed to prevent the excessive growth and accumulation of phytoplankton and seaweeds."

"Diverse and abundant populations of grazing fish (such as blue tangs) and invertebrates (such as sea urchins) are also required to prevent algae (seaweed and phytoplankton) from accumulating. Excessive seaweed growth is known to decrease coral vitality and diversity. Natural predators of grazers help keep their numbers within sustainable limits. Selective removal of grazers through fishing or disease probably exacerbates or causes blooms of algae. Innumerable intricate relationships exist between coral reef organisms, some of which are no doubt crucial to the viability of the ecosystem; however, few have been elucidated. Excessive harvest of species or large reductions in populations by any mechanism may therefore threaten the ecological integrity of coral reefs in currently unknown ways."

"The reef's framework of coral and algae is ideal habitat for fish, lobsters, crabs and many other invertebrates. Hawksbill turtles and dolphins frequent nearby waters; conch, dugongs, rays, turtles, and other species find both feeding grounds and habitat in surrounding sand flats and seagrass meadows"

"The extraordinary biological diversity of reefs makes them biologically important. Like rainforests, reefs have provided valuable scientific insights into the nature of symbiosis, ecological competition, evolution, and animal behavior. The numerous species residing and depending on coral reefs represent a bank containing the genetic diversity necessary for adaptation to changes in the environment, both anthropogenic and natural. While most corals and large reef organisms have been described, the taxonomy of some is uncertain and many other organisms have yet to be described."

 "These key functions of coral reefs are a major reason why we need to take accountability for our behavior and ensure these ecological phenomenon are protected and continue to be allowed to prosper:

 "Coral reefs function as natural ramparts by reducing high-wave energy of typhoon and storm from their structures."

"Coral reefs are also protecting coastal beaches by providing sands that are by-products of foraminifera and/or eroded coral skeletons."

・"Coral reefs provide us various resources not only fisheries products but also building materials, folk craft natural fertilizer, etc."

・"It is potentially expected in the future that coral reefs may provide useful chemical resources for medical use."

"Coral reefs teach us many things serving as “natural school”. The role of coral reefs is expanding in the field of environmental education, for example, as nature watch and nature clean ups."

"Many mysteries still remain in biology of corals and other organisms living in coral reefs."

"Coral reefs involved deeply in global warming ?
The global warming is due to increased emission of CO 2 in the atmosphere induced by human activities. The increase of greenhouse effect gas such as CO 2 in the atmosphere induces temperature rise of the entire globe.
This phenomenon triggers serious problems such as sea level rise, climatic aberration that further result as drought, flooding, extermination of species, etc."

"This important keyword “CO 2” is related with coral reefs:

 The coral skeletal framework is chiefly formed by CO 2 and calcium ion dissolved in seawater, which is a result of photosynthetic activity of zooxanthellae living in coral tissue in symbiotic relationship. Thus this biological activity is thought to have something to do with global CO 2 circulation. However it is not confirmed yet whether coral reef is playing as a sink or source of CO 2.
Coral reefs occupy only 0.3% of total ocean areas. It is surprising to know that such a small ecosystems might be playing a significant role in global CO 2 circulation."
Here is a 5 minute video about Coral reefs I found at Youtube. I hope you will take the time educate yourself and your children (if you have any)  about these important ecosystems:


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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.