Technology & Science

Coral reefs 'cradles' for new species

Coral reefs are recognized as important habitat for preserving the diversity of ocean species, but scientists now say reefs are important sources of new species, as well.

Coral reefs are recognized as important habitat for preserving the diversity of ocean species, but scientists now say reefs are important sources of new species, as well.

Reefs are known to harbour a great variety and number of fish and invertebrate species, but ecologists haven't been sure whether they migrated to reef environments or originated there.

Now researchers in Germany and the U.S. have scoured a fossil database for invertebrate animals that lived on the ocean floor since the Cambrian period, which began more than 540 million years ago.

They compared the number of new species that first appeared in the fossil record in coral reefs and in other ocean bottom environments.

They found that nearly 22 per cent of ocean floor species first appeared in reefs, and that new species were 45 per cent more likely to have originated in reefs than outside reefs.

Wolfgang Kiessling and colleagues at Berlin's Humboldt University and the University of Chicago described reefs as "cradles of evolution" in their scientific paper, published this week in the journal Science.

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