Coralline red algae have existed for 300 million years longer than previously presumed

January 17, 2019, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
The newly discovered coralline red algae Aguirrea fluegelii in a thin section. Credit: FAU/Sebastian Teichert

Coralline red algae have existed for 130 million years—in other words since the Cretaceous Period, the time of the dinosaurs. At least this was the established view of palaeontologists all over the world until now. However, this classification will now have to be revised after fossils discovered by researchers at GeoZentrum Nordbayern at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in conjunction with researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, prove that coralline red algae existed as far back as 430 million years ago.

The discovery made by FAU palaeontologists Dr. Sebastian Teichert, Prof. Dr. Axel Munnecke and their Australian colleague Dr. William Woelkerling has far-reaching consequences. "Our finds mean that we must now look at the in a completely new way," explains Teichert. Up to now, a higher age for coralline red was thought to be so unlikely that fossils found in layers of rock older than the Cretaceous Period were not even considered as coralline red algae simply due to their age. The record comprises all documented occurrences of fossils and is the essential source of information about how life on earth developed. A re-evaluation of the fossils in the record could help scientists to answer new questions regarding the development of coralline red algae.

Ecosystem engineers in the making

"The fact that coralline red algae occur so much earlier in the earth's history sheds new light on several issues in ecology," says Teichert. Red algae play an extremely important role in the world's oceans today. For example, their calcareous skeletons ensure that in the tropics remain stable and are even able to withstand heavy storms. In the arctic, on the other hand, red algae take on the role of so-called ecosystem engineers. Their growth provides habitat for a large number of other organisms.

"It's still unclear why there is such a long period of time between the point when coralline red algae first occurred and the point when they became the ecosystem engineers they are today," says Teichert. "It's possible that coralline red algae needed several million years to adapt from the time they first occurred before they were able to perform their current function in the ecosystem."

Explore further: Algae fortifies coral reefs in past and present

More information: Sebastian Teichert et al, Coralline red algae from the Silurian of Gotland indicate that the order Corallinales (Corallinophycidae, Rhodophyta) is much older than previously thought, Palaeontology (2019). DOI: 10.1111/pala.12418

Related Stories

Algae fortifies coral reefs in past and present

August 28, 2017

The Great Barrier Reef, and most other large reefs around the world, owe their bulk in large part to a type of red algae that grows on corals and strengthens them. New research led by Anna Weiss, a Ph.D. candidate at The ...

Ocean acidification makes coralline algae less robust

February 8, 2016

Ocean acidification (the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth's oceans, caused by the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere), is affecting the formation of the skeleton of coralline algae which play an important part in marine ...

Coral reef study traces indirect effects of overfishing

February 27, 2012

A study of the tropical coral reef system along the coastline of Kenya has found dramatic effects of overfishing that could threaten the long-term health of the reefs. Led by scientists at the University of California, Santa ...

Recommended for you

0 comments

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.