Study: Corals can switch skeletal material

Jul 06, 2006

U.S. marine geologists say they've determined corals can change their skeletons, using different minerals depending on the seawater's chemical composition.

Johns Hopkins University postdoctoral fellow Justin Ries and colleagues say the finding marks the first known case of an animal altering the composition of its skeleton in response to changes in its physical environment.

Ries says the aquatic animal's sensitivity to such changes poses questions about its evolutionary history, as well as the future of the ecologically important coral reefs that it builds, especially since seawater is changing in response to global warming and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Reefs are large underwater structures of coral skeletons, made from calcium carbonate secreted by multiple generations of tiny coral polyps during periods ranging to millions of years.

The scientists showed corals can switch from using aragonite to another mineral, calcite, in making the calcium carbonate. They make that switch in response to decreases in the ratio of magnesium to calcium in seawater, Ries said. That ratio has changed dramatically over geologic time.

The research appears in the July issue of the journal Geology.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Explore further: Fruit flies crucial to basic research

Related Stories

Why seashells' mineral forms differently in seawater

Mar 03, 2015

For almost a century, scientists have been puzzled by a process that is crucial to much of the life in Earth's oceans: Why does calcium carbonate, the tough material of seashells and corals, sometimes take ...

How will ocean acidification impact marine life?

Feb 03, 2015

Many marine organisms—such as coral, clams, mussels, sea urchins, barnacles, and certain microscopic plankton—rely on equilibrated chemical conditions and pH levels in the ocean to build their calcium-based ...

Recommended for you

Climate change costing soybean farmers

10 hours ago

Even during a good year, soybean farmers nationwide are, in essence, taking a loss. That's because changes in weather patterns have been eating into their profits and taking quite a bite: $11 billion over ...

Clues to aging from long-lived lemurs

10 hours ago

When Jonas the lemur died in January, just five months short of his thirtieth birthday, he was the oldest of his kind. A primate called a fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Jonas belonged to a long-lived clan. Dwarf ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.