Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Newly described black coral species stands tall

Black coral is one of the gems of the islands, and now a new species of black coral has been discovered.

It was collected by the Pisces submersible, operated by the Hawai`i Undersea Reseach Lab, in waters 1,000 to 1,600 feet deep within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

(Image: Leiopathes annosa, a newly described black coral off Hawai`i. Credit: NOAA/HURL/Chris Kelley.)

Researchers from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural Resources described the new coral in the journal Zootaxa.  

The coral had been seen before, but had been misidentified as the same species as one found in the Mediterranean. A review of its features found it is a distinct species. It has been given the name Leiopathes annosa.

“The species is characterized by tall (1 m or more), fan-shaped colonies, with thick, sometimes overlapping branches, and tissues that are colored bright orange when alive,” the authors write.

The coral forms growth rings like trees, which can be used to establish their age. This coral, based on its growth rings, was found to be able to live more than 4,000 years. That helped determine its name species name. Annosa means long-lived.

NOAA report it may be the longest-living marine organism known.

“This research emphasizes how much can be learned from studying deep and pristine environments such as those found in the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, of which only a small fraction has been explored,” said Daniel Wagner, a research specialist with the Papahānaumokuākea  Monument.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015

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