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Sun-dependent algae discovered with black coral in deep water

  • COURTESY OF DANIEL WAGNER / HAWAII INSTITUTE OF MARINE BIOLOGY
    Isle researchers discover algae commonly found in shallow water in depths of nearly 1,300 feet.
  • COURTESY OF DANIEL WAGNER / HAWAII INSTITUTE OF MARINE BIOLOGY
    Scientists examined 14 black coral species from around Hawaii and found that 71 percent contained algae. Shown is Hawaiian black coral, Antipathes griggi.
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Who knew algae had such depth?

A research team from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, led by University of Hawaii doctoral student Daniel Wagner, has discovered a photosynthetic algae called symbiodinium at ocean depths of nearly 1,300 feet, roughly twice as deep as any previous finding.

The algae, which were found on samples of black coral species around Hawaii, are commonly associated with shallow-water, reef-building corals, which rely on the algae for nutrients. However, symbiodinium, which requires sunlight to photosynthesize, had not been detected below 656 feet before and typically lives in depths of about 130 feet.

Wagner said the algae was found in very low densities, suggesting that it was not a likely nutrient source for the black coral. He said it was possible that the algae found on the black coral was dormant, dying or possibly feeding off of the coral.

"But it’s only a guess at this point," said Wagner, 28 "As is usually the case, you uncover one thing and it leads to 10 new questions."

Wagner’s research is providing rare insight into the mysterious nature of black coral and deep reefs.

Black coral, the state’s official gemstone, is harvested off Maui for use in jewelry, but little is known about its biology.

A full report on the findings will be published this month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Wagner and his fellow researchers will conduct follow-up research early next year using deep-sea submersible vessels.

 

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