Thu 28 Oct 2010: 3pm – Huang Danwei on “Cleaning up the ‘Bigmessidae’”

Department of Biological Sciences (BEJC) Seminar Announcement

“Cleaning up the ‘Bigmessidae’ (reef-building corals from four families) and other marine taxonomic disorders: A small contribution to uncover marine biodiversity”

By Huang Danwei
NUS-Overseas Graduate Scholar
PhD candidate
Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Thu 28 October 2010: 3pm
DBS Conference Room, S3-05 – map

Hosted by Prof Chou Loke Ming

About the talk – “Marine ecosystems are experiencing unprecedented rates of biodiversity loss around the world. Habitat areas are prioritised for conservation on the basis of the species they possess, and conservation programmes are assessed on the species preserved. However, without an appropriate classification scheme grounded on evolutionary history, errors in estimates of diversity are inevitable.

Recent phylogenetic studies on scleractinian corals demonstrate precisely that. Based principally on gross morphology, traditional taxonomy suffers from the lack of well-defined homologous characters that can sufficiently describe scleractinian diversity. One of the most challenging clades recovered by recent analyses is ‘Bigmessidae’, an informal grouping that comprises four conventional coral families, Faviidae, Merulinidae, Pectiniidae and Trachyphylliidae, interspersed among one another in a big mess.

I will describe part of my PhD study aimed at reconstructing the evolutionary history of this clade. I present a robust molecular phylogeny based on five DNA sequence markers gathered from 76 of the 132 currently recognized species collected from five reef regions around the world.

As expected, nested within ‘Bigmessidae’ are four conventional families as listed above, and relationships among them generally corroborate previous molecular work. This more resolved phylogeny supports several groupings that cannot be explained using macro-morphology, but are reconciled by subcorallite features of the skeleton. Wide geographic sampling in this study has also revealed more instances of possible cryptic taxa confused by evolutionary convergence of gross coral morphology. Results therefore support the assertion that diversity estimates of scleractinian corals are erroneous. Fortunately, the recovery of most genera with only minor degrees of paraphyly offers some hope for impending taxonomic amendments. Subclades are well defined and supported by subcorallite morphology, providing a robust framework for further systematic work.

I will also present results from my study of two historically understudied marine taxa–insects in the genus Pontomyia and fanworms in the family Fabriciidae. Respectively, they span the range between the discovery of unexpected diversity to the formal description of taxa that completes the process of documenting biodiversity, an undertaking that is fundamental to, yet lagging behind, research on ecology and conservation.”

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