Building new capacity for work on coral; evolutionary insights from RAD-seq and ecological insights from cultivation
Dr. Zac H. Forsman is a research faculty at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), affiliate faculty at Hawaii Pacific University, and a coral specialist working with the State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. Dr. Forsman has worked in Hawaii since 2003 on the evolution, ecology, taxonomy, and cultivation of reef building coral. His research has focused on understanding species boundaries, rare species, evolution, phylogegraphy, and phenotypic variability and plasticity. His work has resulted in the discovery of new coral species and new species complexes. He is currently focused on using next-generation sequencing and genomic data to understand population and species level variation in corals.
Corals form the foundation of an ecosystem that is the epitome of complexity, biodiversity, and rapid global decline, yet understanding coral biodiversity and extinction risk remains a fundamental challenge. Coral species boundaries are poorly understood which has led to centuries of taxonomic confusion. Population level variability can overlap with species level variation, which is highly problematic for a wide variety of studies. Closely related species complexes are very common and reticulate evolution is suspected to play an important role in coral evolution, yet due to limited molecular markers and few morphological characters, alternative hypothesis have been difficult to rule out. I have used a variety of tools to study this coral ‘species’ problem, including microscopic measurements, multi-locus phylogenetics and phylogeography, cultivation, and next-generation sequencing technology. Here I will review my previous work on corals in the Atlantic and the Pacific. These studies have revealed new species, new species complexes, and new biogeographic patterns, yet they have been limited by available molecular markers. I will present new holobiont metagenomic data from Restriction site Associated DNA sequencing (RAD-seq), which holds great promise as a powerful new tool for understanding hybridization, recent speciation, and ecological variation. I will also discuss recent coral cultivation work, which has implications for cultivating rare species, and for reef restoration and mitigation projects.