Lord Howe Island has turned out to be quite the treasure chest in terms of ecological diversity. A new species of hard coral found there was described in a recent paper, but the research team anticipates the discovery of more yet-to-be-discovered species.
Although Lord Howe Island, off southeastern Australia is known for its many plant and animal species not found elsewhere, its corals are as yet to be explored, particularly using modern genetic techniques.
A recent paper in ZooKeys described a new species of hard coral species, Cyphastrea salae, found there.
Dr Mia Hoogenboom from James Cook University (JCU), Townsville Australia described it as “quite non-descript from a distance, although it is beautifully symmetrical up close like most corals.”
Co-author Dr Danwei Huang fro National University of Singapore added, “ 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.”
Lord Howe Island is situated more than 900 km south of the Great Barrier Reef. As a result, its coral populations are highly isolated. This gives rise to the possibility of speciation. To date, C. Salae is the first new local coral species to be described.
However, it appears that it won't be the only one.
Co-author Professor Andrew Baird from JCU described his first dive at Lord Howe Island: “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".