Danwei’s work on the Big-Mess-idae published as “Threatened Reef Corals of the World” in PLoS ONE

Huang Danwei is a DBS-supported graduate student (NUS-Overseas Graduate Scholar) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who is will defend his dissertation in August this year.

His work focuses mainly on the reconstruction and application of the coral evolutionary tree – reconstruction of the “Big-mess-idae” group and using trees to examine extinction risk and conservation status.

Huang Danwei

Danwei suggested this figure for a good summary of some of what the work has accomplished thus far:

This is from his paper published in PLoS ONE on 30 Mar 2012: Huang, D. 2012. D. PLoS ONE, 7(3): e34459. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034459

PLoS ONE_ Threatened Reef Corals of the World
It’s open-acess, hop over to read


“A substantial proportion of the world’s living species, including one-third of the reef-building corals, are threatened with extinction and in pressing need of conservation action. In order to reduce biodiversity loss, it is important to consider species’ contribution to evolutionary diversity along with their risk of extinction for the purpose of setting conservation priorities.

Here I reconstruct the most comprehensive tree of life for the order Scleractinia (1,293 species) that includes all 837 living reef species, and employ a composite measure of phylogenetic distinctiveness and extinction risk to identify the most endangered lineages that would not be given top priority on the basis of risk alone. The preservation of these lineages, not just the threatened species, is vital for safeguarding evolutionary diversity.

Tests for phylogeny-associated patterns show that corals facing elevated extinction risk are not clustered on the tree, but species that are susceptible, resistant or resilient to impacts such as bleaching and disease tend to be close relatives. Intensification of these threats or extirpation of the endangered lineages could therefore result in disproportionate pruning of the coral tree of life.”

The work hasn’t gone unnoticed – on 25 Apr 2012, this paper was identified by Nicholas Graham of James Cook University as a “must read” in the Faculty of 1000 (F1000) website. F1000 “identifies and evaluates the most important articles in biology and medical research publications. Articles are selected by a peer-nominated global ‘Faculty’ of the world’s leading scientists and clinicians [more than 10,000 experts worldwide] who then rate them and explain their importance.” ‘Approximately 2% of all published articles in the biological and medical sciences are listed each month.’

Threatened reef corals of the world. - F1000

“The author points out that linking evolutionary and extinction risk data may enable coral reef regions to be categorized for conservation based on species compositions that make the greatest contribution to evolutionary history. This may indeed be the case, but would ultimately need to be layered with other important ecological and social information that also needs to be considered in prioritizing conservation objectives.”

See: Graham N: “Danwei Huang combined phylogenetic distinctiveness data with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) extinction…” of: [Huang D. Threatened reef corals of the world. PLoS One. 2012; 7; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034459]. Faculty of 1000, 25 Apr 2012. F1000.com/14267346#eval15779550

Thanks to Rudolf Meier for the alert!


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