Researchers believe this species is “first of many new hard coral species to be found”
Lord Howe Island is already known for its unique plant and animal species. However, its coral fauna remained largely unexplored – until recently. In a recent issue of ZooKeys, researchers from James Cook University (JCU), Townsville, Australia and National University of Singapore (NUS) described a new species of hard coral – Cyphastrea salae – found at Lord Howe Island.
“The animal itself is quite non-descript from a distance, although it is beautifully symmetrical up close like most corals,” said Dr Mia Hoogenboom, from JCU.
“But we believe this is the first of many new hard coral species to be found in this World Heritage-listed marine protected area,” she added.
According to Dr Danwei Huang from NUS, “Interestingly, Cyphastrea salae looks almost exactly like other closely-related corals. However, its gene sequences are distinct and there is no doubt it is a species that is new to science.”
It appears that this won't be the only new species found there. Co-author Prof Andrew Baird from JCU described the first time he dived there six years ago: “On my very first dive in the lagoon at Lord Howe I knew I was looking at something very special. Twenty years of diving all over the globe had not prepared me for what I saw. I could hardly put a name on any coral!”
Subsequently, he added, “The Acropora, in particular, look highly promisingly. There are at least five species that look unlike anything I have seen anywhere else in my travels.”
Being located more than 900 km south of the Great Barrier Reef, the coral populations at Lord Howe Island are highly isolated. This sets the stage for the potential for speciation. The discovery of the C. salae raises the conservation significance of the site and reinforces the need for strong management measures to protect this unique environment.