How a Bubblegum Coral Conquered the World

28 novembre 2012

A propos de mon parcours

For a resident of the deep sea, a species of bubblegum coral is unusually
cosmopolitan.

For a resident of the deep sea, a species of bubblegum coral is unusually
cosmopolitan. These corals build often-colorful, knobby-armed structures deep in
the oceans, where they appear comfortable nearly everywhere outside of the
tropics.

A new genetic study not only indicates these
widespread populations belong to a single species, but it also offers a glimpse
at how this single species
of bubblegum coral
, Paragorgia arborea, spread around world. The

researchers’ reconstruction suggests the coral’s ancient migration started in
the North Pacific more than 10 million years ago, from which the colony-building
animals may have hitched a ride on ancient ocean currents to travel to new
seafloor habitat.

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One species or many?

There are multiple types of bubblegum coral, but
this particular species piqued the interest of researchers when they saw it was
unusually widespread for a deep-sea organism. Paragorgia arborea has
been found in the northern and southern Pacific and Atlantic, the Indian, the
Arctic and the Southern oceans. (See Photos
of Bubblegum Coral
)

« It was really puzzling, there was this deep-sea species that could be found
all over the world, except in the tropics, » said Santiago Herrera, one of the
researchers and a doctoral candidate with the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution (WHOI) Joint Program in Oceanography. « It makes you doubt it was a
single species. »How a Bubblegum Coral Conquered the World dans A propos de mon parcours bubblegum-coral-300x274

This bubblegum coral forms colonies on the
ocean floor to depths
as great as 4,921 feet (1,500 meters). The structures
appear in hues from bright red, orangish pink and pale pink to white in
photographs taken using artificial light.

On the seafloor, the coral’s branches create habitat for other creatures,
much like trees in a rain forest do. But unlike trees, bubblegum coral eats tiny
dead organisms raining down from above, and sometimes traps its own prey.

These feeding habits also distinguish it from coral that forms reefs in
shallower, tropical waters, which team up with photosynthetic algae.

Discovery News

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