Fast-growing species shape the evolution of reef corals

Siqueira Correa, Alexandre, Kiessling, Wolfgang, and Bellwood, David (2022) Fast-growing species shape the evolution of reef corals. Nature Communications, 13. 2426.

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Ecological interactions are ubiquitous on tropical coral reefs, where sessile organisms coexist in limited space. Within these high-diversity systems, reef-building scleractinian corals form an intricate interaction network. The role of biotic interactions among reef corals is well established on ecological timescales. However, its potential effect on macroevolutionary patterns remains unclear. By analysing the rich fossil record of Scleractinia, we show that reef coral biodiversity experienced marked evolutionary rate shifts in the last 3 million years, possibly driven by biotic interactions. Our models suggest that there was an overwhelming effect of staghorn corals (family Acroporidae) on the fossil diversity trajectories of other coral groups. Staghorn corals showed an unparalleled spike in diversification during the Pleistocene. But surprisingly, their expansion was linked with increases in both extinction and speciation rates in other coral families, driving a nine-fold increase in lineage turnover. These results reveal a double-edged effect of diversity dependency on reef evolution. Given their fast growth, staghorn corals may have increased extinction rates via competitive interactions, while promoting speciation through their role as ecosystem engineers. This suggests that recent widespread human-mediated reductions in staghorn coral cover, may be disrupting the key macroevolutionary processes that established modern coral reef ecosystems.

Item ID: 74400
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2041-1723
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2022. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC LF190100062
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Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2022 00:24
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3104 Evolutionary biology > 310412 Speciation and extinction @ 50%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3104 Evolutionary biology > 310405 Evolutionary ecology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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