The ancient evolutionary origins of Scleractinia revealed by azooxanthellate corals

Stolarski, Jarosław, Kitahara, Marcelo V., Miller, David J., Cairns, Stephen D., Mazur, Maciej, and Meibom, Anders (2011) The ancient evolutionary origins of Scleractinia revealed by azooxanthellate corals. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 11. pp. 1-10.

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Abstract

Background: Scleractinian corals are currently a focus of major interest because of their ecological importance and the uncertain fate of coral reefs in the face of increasing anthropogenic pressure. Despite this, remarkably little is known about the evolutionary origins of corals. The Scleractinia suddenly appear in the fossil record about 240 Ma, but the range of morphological variation seen in these Middle Triassic fossils is comparable to that of modern scleractinians, implying much earlier origins that have so far remained elusive. A significant weakness in reconstruction(s) of early coral evolution is that deep-sea corals have been poorly represented in molecular phylogenetic analyses.

Results: By adding new data from a large and representative range of deep-water species to existing molecular datasets and applying a relaxed molecular clock, we show that two exclusively deep-sea families, the Gardineriidae and Micrabaciidae, diverged prior to the Complexa/Robusta coral split around 425 Ma, thereby pushing the evolutionary origin of scleractinian corals deep into the Paleozoic.

Conclusions: The early divergence and distinctive morphologies of the extant gardineriid and micrabaciid corals suggest a link with Ordovician "scleractiniamorph" fossils that were previously assumed to represent extinct anthozoan skeletonized lineages. Therefore, scleractinian corals most likely evolved from Paleozoic soft-bodied ancestors. Modern shallow-water Scleractinia, which are dependent on symbionts, appear to have had several independent origins from solitary, non-symbiotic precursors. The Scleractinia have survived periods of massive climate change in the past, suggesting that as a lineage they may be less vulnerable to future changes than often assumed.

Item ID: 21830
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Additional Information:

© 2011 Stolarski et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

ISSN: 1471-2148
Date Deposited: 15 May 2012 05:41
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0604 Genetics > 060405 Gene Expression (incl Microarray and other genome-wide approaches) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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