A new study has found coral reefs account for more new species than any other tropical marine habitats. Through analysis of fossil records going back 540 million years ago, researchers have analyzed the rate of evolution and discovered new species appear 50 percent faster on reefs than in other habitats. The new study was published in the journal Science with details on the BBC website. The extreme biodiversity of coral reefs may only be seconded by that of rainforests making it even more important to conserve these evolutionary hotspots and as the research team pointed out, a loss could mean “losing an opportunity to create new species.” More after the break.
The study, led by scientist Wolfgang Kiessling from Humboldt University in Berlin, examined the fossils of seafloor-living benthic creatures and studied the earliest record of each genus to make their determination.
“We checked when and where each genus first occurred,” explained Dr. Kiessling. “So for example, if the earliest fossils were 300 million years, we asked: ‘Did it occur in a reef or outside’….Our study shows that reefs are even more important than currently assumed. They are not only ecologically important for the marine environment, but also in an evolutionary sense.”
Since benthic creatures remain on the seafloor once they die their fossils tend to be surrounded by remains of their habitat leading the research team to determine whether or not they came from reefs. The backbone of the research came from the Paleobiology Database, an international database effort that began in 2000.