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. 2020 Mar 3;10(1):3903.
doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-60605-2.

Evolutionary Traits That Enable Scleractinian Corals to Survive Mass Extinction Events

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Free PMC article

Evolutionary Traits That Enable Scleractinian Corals to Survive Mass Extinction Events

Gal Dishon et al. Sci Rep. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Scleractinian "stony" corals are major habitat engineers, whose skeletons form the framework for the highly diverse, yet increasingly threatened, coral reef ecosystem. Fossil coral skeletons also present a rich record that enables paleontological analysis of coral origins, tracing them back to the Triassic (~241 Myr). While numerous invertebrate lineages were eradicated at the last major mass extinction boundary, the Cretaceous-Tertiary/K-T (66 Myr), a number of Scleractinian corals survived. We review this history and assess traits correlated with K-T mass extinction survival. Disaster-related "survival" traits that emerged from our analysis are: (1) deep water residing (>100 m); (2) cosmopolitan distributions, (3) non-symbiotic, (4) solitary or small colonies and (5) bleaching-resistant. We then compared these traits to the traits of modern Scleractinian corals, using to IUCN Red List data, and report that corals with these same survival traits have relatively stable populations, while those lacking them are presently decreasing in abundance and diversity. This shows corals exhibiting a similar dynamic survival response as seen at the last major extinction, the K-T. While these results could be seen as promising, that some corals may survive the Anthropocene extinction, they also highlight how our relatively-fragile Primate order does not possess analogous "survival" characteristics, nor have a record of mass extinction survival as some corals are capable.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
The prevalence of coral’s traits throughout the past 120 Mya based on fossil coral occurrences and corresponding traits. (a) Paleo-climate context is given with SST (as δ18O) and smoothed atmospheric CO2. (b–j) Dynamics of coral traits throughout the past 120 Mya. Data are integrated over 5 Myr intervals and include only results where the number of genera exceeds 10. Colored “X” symbols on the right represent current status of the examined traits. (k) Gray area along the x-axis shows Scleractinian genera diversity in the fossil record. Solid lines represent traits inferred from extant coral genera, whereas dashed lines represent traits derived from the coral fossil record (based on the KTbase). Thin lines represent confidence intervals for traits that have numerical value (g–j).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Current representation of coral traits in the IUCN Red List categories. Analyses were performed at the species level based on data from CoralTraits database. Red list categories VU, EN and CR are classified as “threatened” and averages are written for “threatened” and LC + NT categories. Numbers at top are averages of threatened/unthreatened categories.
Figure 3
Figure 3
nMDS analyses of coral genera. Each circle represents a coral genus and its coordinates are representing this coral’s traits. The color refers to IUCN Red List category and the shape (square/circle) refers to its survival/extinction through the K-T extinction.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Summary of the traits characterizing extinction survivors. Colors of cells represent whether trait is favored (green), rejected (red), or no influence (grey). Asterisks (*) represent findings from this study.
Figure 5
Figure 5
Current “extinction status” of Pre and Post K-T coral genera (grey and black bars respectively). Pre K-T corals (N = 16 genera) are those found in the fossil record before 66 Mya, Post K-T corals (N = 59 genera) only emerged later than 66 Mya. Inset, the percentage of pre and post K-T threatened genera (Red List category higher than Near Threatened). Red List category for a genus was defined as the category of the least threatened species within the genus.

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