[Coral-List] Is Tubastrea an introduced species?

Douglas Fenner dfenner at blueskynet.as
Sun Feb 24 01:44:38 EST 2008

     You are right that the dates on the map are the first known sightings 
at different locations.  I was initially skeptical myself of Steve Cairns' 
suggestion that it was introduced.  But people have been diving for quite a 
while in many places without reporting seeing it.  Further, the first 
reports were in Curacao and Puerto Rico, not Jamaica.  Until recently, all 
sightings in the Gulf of Mexico were on oil rigs, but one colony has now 
been found on the Flower Garden Banks.  They are abundant on many oil 
platforms, and in spite of many dives by many people at many locations, no 
one has reported finding it anywhere other than oil rigs in the Gulf until 
this first colony in the Flower Gardens, so it is quite unlikely they have 
been in the Gulf before the platforms were put in place.  Thus, it appears 
that the 4000 or so oil rigs in the Gulf provided substrate for it to hop 
from one rig to another and spread, much like they have done with fish. 
There are a lot of first sightings in a sequence that matches the directions 
of currents for it to have all happened by chance.  All but one of the 
colonies observed in Florida so far are on wrecks, the other is on a rock 
moved by construction, so there is no evidence they have been in Florida for 
very long.  I believe the primary reasons Steve Cairns thinks it was 
introduced is that it is the only shallow water Caribbean coral that is also 
in the Indo-Pacific, plus the pattern of spread.  It was also the last genus 
of corals to be discovered in the Caribbean, well after all the others.  Of 
course it's not proof.  But the pattern of spread is very similar to the 
pattern of spread of the putative disease that killed Diadema around the 
Caribbean, and the difference in the time it took to spread fits with the 
length of time it takes for a new colony to grow to reproductive maturity 
and send off larva of its own, as compared to the rate at which the disease 
killed urchins releasing more of the disease agent.  Plus, the first couple 
observations of it reported were on ship hulls.  All this is discussed in 
the articles.  Again, there is no proof, but there are a variety of lines of 
evidence that support it.
    Perhaps those who study introduced species can elucidate for us what 
types of evidence are normally available to conclude that a species is 
introduced or has newly spread to a location- I doubt that the actual 
founding event is observed very often, unless the introduction was 
deliberate.  To ask for proof that an organism was, or is, not at a 
particular location is to ask someone to prove the null hypothesis, it can't 
be done- reefs are big places and to search every tiny nook and cranny to 
prove that the species is not there, is simply impossible.  So proving it 
was not there before it was first sighted is not possible for 
one.    -Doug

    Fenner, D. and Banks, K.  2004.  Orange cup coral, Tubastraea coccinea, 
invades Florida and the Flower Garden Banks, Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. 

    Reefs 23: 505-507.

Fenner, D.  2001.  Biogeography of three Caribbean corals (Scleractinia) and 
the invasion of Tubastraea coccinea into the Gulf of Mexico.  Bulletin of 
Marine Science 69: 1175-1189.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Thomas Goreau" <goreau at bestweb.net>
To: <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Cc: "Stephen Cairns" <cairnss at si.edu>
Sent: Friday, February 22, 2008 12:55 PM
Subject: [Coral-List] Is Tubastrea an introduced species?

> The map of the "spread" of Tubastrea coccinea in the paper referred
> to below basically gives the dates that the first diving marine
> biologists around the Caribbean first noted Tubastrea. That is why it
> appears to "spread" outward from Jamaica. But since these are the
> first dates of observers at these sites, this cannot be taken as
> proof of the actual spread of Tubastrea at all. I'd  be curious to
> know why Steve Cairns thinks it is introduced. I'd pay a lot of
> weight to his arguments, but not to the map mentioned below.
> Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
> President
> Global Coral Reef Alliance
> 37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
> 617-864-4226
> goreau at bestweb.net
> http://www.globalcoral.org
>> Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2008 16:59:47 -0500
>> From: "Ian Enochs" <ienochs at rsmas.miami.edu>
>> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Live coral trade - Philippine exports
>> To: "'Craig Lilyestrom'" <craig at caribe.net>
>> Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> Message-ID: <002b01c87342$be51d950$3af58bf0$@miami.edu>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
>> Craig,
>> With respect to evaluating the impact of invasive species of coral,
>> I think
>> it is very interesting to take note of Tubastraea coccinea.  Many
>> people
>> don't realize that the "orange cup coral" that they see covering
>> wrecks and
>> deeper reefs is actually a Pacific species that is believed to have
>> been
>> introduced into the Caribbean some time before 1943 (Cairns,
>> 2000).  For a
>> map of its presumed dispersal see Fenner & Banks 2004.  While the
>> effect of
>> Tubastraea on native species is poorly understood, Creed (2006) has
>> observed
>> aggressive interaction with Mussismilia hispida in Brazil and my
>> preliminary
>> laboratory observations, conducted with native Caribbean species,
>> suggest
>> that Tubastraea is capable of causing tissue necrosis at limited
>> distances.
>> Even though this species' introduction was most likely not due to the
>> aquarium trade, I think it still serves as a relevant example of the
>> capability of some coral species to invade nonnative waters.
>> Cheers,
>> Ian Enochs
>> Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
>> University of Miami
>> 4600 Rickenbacker Cswy.
>> Miami, FL 33149
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