Source: Pennsylvania State University
A team of researchers studying Acropora palmata—elkhorn corals—has determined the oldest genotypes to be over 5,000 years old. This might make them the longest-living animals on the planet. The work, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, may help in our understanding of how reefs will respond to environmental change.
Estimates of coral ages were previously made by looking at the skeletons of colonies or the sizes of colonies, but this is the first time a genetic approach has been used. The method tracks the number of mutations that accumulated in the genome of the coral colonies since the egg and sperm originally met to form the genome.
The researchers, who come from Penn State University, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Dial Cordy & Associates, were surprised to find that some elkhorn coral genomes have been around for more than five millennia. It was previously thought that only cold-water corals could live to be older than 1,000 years.
The study shows that some Acropora palmata genotypes have weathered various environmental upheavals, such as sea-level changes, storms, and sedimentation. “This is good news because it indicates that they can be very resilient,” says Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State, Iliana Baums. “On the other hand, the species we studied is now listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because it has suffered such sharp population declines, indicating that there are limits to how much change even these very resilient corals can handle.”
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