[Coral-List] Impact of listing 66 coral species on coral research

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Wed Dec 12 20:05:59 EST 2012

*Gene's point that Acropora in Florida appeared and disappeared in the
geological record is irrelevant to the discussion of protecting species
from extinction, since those species did not go extinct and then come back
from the dead.  They survived somewhere else, such as the Caribbean.

I have to assume that Eugene has no idea that this line of evidence, as
interesting as it is, is totally irrelevant to the question of whether
listing 66 corals under the Endangered Species Act is a good idea or not.

The Acropora species came back repeatedly in the geological record in
Florida, because they did NOT go extinct as a species.  Species being, like
Acropora cervicornis, for instance.  There were still living colonies of
Acropora cervicornis somewhere in the western Atlantic, the only place in
the world where they live.  But Florida is not the only place that they
live.  Florida is near the northern end of their range, and cold events can
kill them quite easily.  My undertanding is a number of corals were killed
in Florida a couple of winters ago.  If they HAD gone extinct, they would
never have re-appeared in the geological record.

Anyhow, the reason for the Endangered Species Act is that once a species
goes extinct, you can't get it back.  Now there might be a qualification
for plants, where a plant went extinct and then someone found some seeds in
a very dry place, and the seeds were still able to germinate.  Another
exception may turn out to be a tortoise in the Galapagos Islands that has
been in the news.  The last member of that species died recently, his name
was "Lonesome George."  But turns out he was a member of a sub-species, and
another sub-species has some genes from his sub-species, that got into them
because sailors may have brought some of George's subspecies over to
another island (probably for food, and some escaped) and they interbred
with the other subspecies.  But that only works for things that can
interbreed.  "Biological Species" form only a few hybrids, if any, with
other species.  That's an Ernst Mayer concept.
    Most species are defined based on morphology, not genetics, because
there are too many species (over 2 million described) and genetics is too
expensive and time consuming to test each species, as are inter-breeding
experiments.  Now a number of coral "morphospecies" (species based on
morphology) of corals have been found to interbreed in lab experiments
(such as experiments by Wallace and Willis).  Veron has used the term
"reticulate species" that Wallace and Willis used (which probably came from
plants like Eucalyptus and Iris) and proposed that this is a common feature
of corals.  The fact that some species are inter-fertile in the lab does
not necessarily mean they interbreed on reefs, but suggests they may be
capable of doing that.  At this point we don't know what proportion of the
66 species that were proposed for ESA status can or can't interbreed in the

There are a lot of species that have gone extinct in the last 100 years or
so.  I have read that the rate of extinction now is higher than during the
mass extinctions in the geological record.  I do not have the expertise to
examine the basis for that claim and say whether I think it is correct or
not.  But there seems very little doubt that the rate of extinctions has
gone up orders of magnitude from the background rates before humans started
causing extinctions.  I would bet that humans have been cause, or at least
the straw that broke the camel's back in most extinctions that have been
documented in the last 100 years or so.  The law was passed to try to slow
that down, because once you have lost those species, you can't get them
back.  There is a long list, a very long list of extinct species from the
last 100 years or so, and not a single one, not one, has been brought
back.  There is talk of trying, but talk is cheap, and there is not a
single species brought back so far to prove it can be done.  Maybe someday
a few species will be brought back, at great expense and effort and
ingenuity.  Usually an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  And
what is very unlikely indeed to change is that most species will never be
brought back.

So the Endangered Species Act is not about trying to restore populations as
Gene has said twice.  It is about stopping extinctions.  And talk about
corals coming back in the geological record are not about extinctions, that
is irrelevant (except if small population sizes can be demonstrated, and a
link between small population sizes and extinction, something that was not
Gene's point and he didn't mention.)

Cheers,  Doug

On Mon, Dec 10, 2012 at 9:31 AM, Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu> wrote:

> Dear Listers, I suppose coral biologists and environmentalists will
> never understand/learn what the geology of coral reefs is telling us.
> As pointed out many, many times, about 98 percent of the Florida Keys
> reefs are no less than a meter thick yet they have been underwater at
> least 6,000 years. Acropora has come and gone  several times during
> that period  long before all the current hysteria about
> Co2/warming/alkalinity shift began. Seems likely that if history were
> not repeating itself our reefs would be many meters thicker and
> contain a continuous record of all the species we worry about. Gene
> --
> No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> University of South Florida
> College of Marine Science Room 221A
> 140 Seventh Avenue South
> St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
> Tel 727 553-1158----------------------------------
> -----------------------------------
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PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

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