|Heliopora hiberniana |
Richards, Yasuda, Kikuchi, Foster, Mitsuyuki, Stat, Suyama & Wilson, 2018
Maintaining the accretion potential and three dimensional structure of coral reefs is a priority but reef-building scleractinian corals are highly threatened and retreating. Hence future reefs are predicted to be dominated by non-constructional taxa. Since the Late Triassic however, other non-scleractinian anthozoans such as Heliopora have contributed to tropical and subtropical reef-building. Heliopora is an ancient and highly conserved reef building octocoral genus within the monospecific Family Helioporidae, represented by a single extant species – H. coerulea, Pallas, 1766. Here we show integrated morphological, genomic and reproductive evidence to substantiate the existence of a second species within the genus Heliopora. Importantly, some individuals of the new species herein described as Heliopora hiberniana sp. nov. feature a white skeleton indicating that the most diagnostic and conserved Heliopora character (the blue skeleton) can be displaced. The new species is currently known only from offshore areas in north Western Australia, which is a part of the world where coral bleaching events have severely impacted the scleractinian community over the last two decades. Field observations indicate individuals of both H. coerulea and H. hiberniana sp. nov. were intact after the 2016 Scott Reef thermal stress event, and we discuss the possibility that bleaching resistant non-scleractinian reef builders such as Heliopora could provide new ecological opportunities for the reconfiguration of future reefs by filling empty niches and functional roles left open by the regression of scleractinian corals.
Subclass OCTOCORALLIA Haeckel, 1866
Order HELIOPORACEA Bock, 1938
Family Helioporidae Moseley, 1876
Genus Heliopora de Blainville, 1830
Diagnosis as for Family. Massive skeleton of crystalline aragonite, polyps in cylindrical tubes, interconnected via solenia.
Type species Heliopora coerulea Pallas, 1766.
Heliopora hiberniana sp. nov.
Etymology: Latin, feminine, in reference to the type locality, adjectival form of Hibernia.
Distribution: Hibernia Reef, Ashmore Reef, Scott Reef, Browse Is., NW Australia.
Diagnosis: Heliopora hiberniana sp. nov. is distinguished from H. coerulea by a slender branching growth form, smaller and more numerous autopores, and highly elaborated echinulations. Some colonies (like the type material) are clearly distinguished by the presence of a white skeleton however this does not appear to be a fixed diagnostic trait as some H. hiberniana sp. nov. individuals retain the blue or intermediate colouration. H. hiberniana sp. nov. is distinguished from H. compressa Verrill, 1864 by its fine branching clump growth form and highly elaborated echinulations. Heliopora compressa is described to have a thick, massive or encrusting base that forms plates with thin edges or lobe-like branches. It also has 2–3 elaborations per echinulation rather than 3–6 as in H. hiberniana sp. nov. Heliopora hiberniana sp. nov. is distinguished by H. fijiensis Hoffmeister, 1945 by its fine branching clump form, smaller autopores (0.58–0.69 mm) and smaller number of pseudosepta (12–15). Heliopora fijiensis is known only from fossil material and it is described as having an encrusting growth form with 14–17 pseudosepta and an autopore diameter of 0.75–0.9 mm. The number of elaboration on echinulations were not recorded.
Remarks: There are only three available names of Heliopora listed in the World Register of Marine Species: H. coerulea (Pallas, 1766), H. fijiensis Hoffmeister, 1945 † and H. compressa Verrill, 1864. All are differentiated from H. hiberniana sp. nov. by morphology. Heliopora fijiensis remains known only from fossil material, and H. compressa is considered a nomen dubium.
The new species was observed growing in close association with Halimeda sp. at the type locality (Fig. 5). Squat lobster Alpheus obesomanus Dana, 1852 (Arthropoda; Crustacea; Malacostracea; Decapoda; Alpheidae) were observed residing in colony tips (Fig. 5F).
Zoe T. Richards, Nina Yasuda, Taisei Kikuchi, Taryn Foster, Chika Mitsuyuki, Michael Stat, Yoshihisa Suyama and Nerida G. Wilson. 2018. Integrated Evidence Reveals A New Species in the Ancient Blue Coral Genus Heliopora (Octocorallia). Scientific Reports. 8, 15875. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-32969-z