How modern coral reefs evolved from their ancient counterparts is the subject of a University of Miami study funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) that will try to determine how coral reefs in the Caribbean went extinct 1 to 2 million years ago and how their modern counterparts of today evolved.
“Our preliminary fieldwork has indicated that the Dominican Republic contains rocks that bridge this critical reef evolution gap,” James Klaus, lead investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, at the UM College of Arts and Sciences said in a press release put out by the university. “The Dominican Republic is a valuable site because it was submerged for a long period of time, and has now been uplifted to make the coral-rich deposits accessible.”
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The $250,000 grant will fund the study for two years, during which time the team will determine the evolutionary transition from the extinct coral Stylophora to today’s reefs that are dominated by corals of the genus Acropora, of which staghorn and elkhorn corals are the most abundant. The team will study how the reefs respond to climate change as well as determine the age of the corals so the team can generate a timeline that will enable them to assess evolutionary changes and link these changes with the changes in sea level as well as the effects of climate change. They hope to assess these changes on a local as well as global scale. An integrated model of Caribbean reef development will also be created to create a timeline of the extinction of the Stylophora coral and the rise of the corals of the Acropora genus. The model will include factors that contribute to these changes including climate change, changes in sea level, tectonics (earth movements), as well as the maximum growth rates of dominant reef building corals.