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University of Iowa News Release


March 14, 2008

UI researcher finds coral diversity, reef development are unrelated

Although ecologists agree that biodiversity is important for the functioning of ecosystems, new research published in the March 14 issue of the journal Science suggests than coral diversity and reef development are unrelated over the past 28 million years.

Coauthor Ann Budd, professor of geoscience in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, noted that the finding is interesting because coral reefs are some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems to be found in the modern oceans.

"The ecological characteristics of dominant coral species are more important to reef development than total numbers of species," she said. "Modern-day reef diversity is found to be a consequence of the long-term geologic history of a given region over millions of years of geologic time."

In the Science article, Budd and her coauthors write: "Reef development was unrelated to coral diversity, and the largest reef tracts formed after extinction had reduced diversity by 50 percent. High diversity is thus not essential for the growth and persistence of coral reefs."

The study was conducted by comparing changes in coral diversity and reef development within the tropical western Atlantic during the past 28 million years by using a combination of new and published fossil and stratigraphic data. Budd said that the estimates of coral diversity made in the study are based on collections in the UI Paleontology Repository.

Her colleagues on the study were lead author Kenneth Johnson of The Natural History Museum, London, who received his doctorate from the UI in 1991 and completed his studies under the direction of Budd; and Jeremy Jackson of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, Calif.

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