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WATER WORLD
As coral disappears, so do tiny crab species
by Brooks Hays
Gainesville, Fla. (UPI) Sep 11, 2015


Hawaii experiencing statewide coral bleaching due to increased water temperatures
Honolulu (UPI) Sep 12, 2015 - Hawaii is experiencing its second bout of mass coral bleaching as a direct effect of abnormally high ocean temperatures. This year, an aggressive El NiƱo has expanded the threat to the entire state.

Climate experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program have predicted severe coral bleaching conditions spanning from the waters surrounding Hawaii's northernmost island of Kure Atoll to its southernmost Hawaii Island.

"Coral bleaching is a result of a loss of algae living within the coral's tissue that provide them with energy and give them their colors," said aquatic biologist Brian Neilson from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. "This loss results in the pale or white 'bleached' appearance of the impacted corals. When corals bleach, they lose a supply of energy and become particularly vulnerable to additional environmental stress."

Researchers say the ocean temperatures surrounding the Hawaiian islands have increased between two and four degrees this summer. Bleaching is now being observed by scientists and residents.

"Just mass mortality!" researcher Courtney Couch explained to the state's KITV. "I've never seen something that fast happen at that level. It really is a wake up call."

Hawaii was also affected by coral bleaching last year, when most of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) were severely affected by the ocean's temperature. This year, however, the area is experiencing its worst reported bleaching event.

"Being extra careful to not damage corals, preventing pollution inputs, and using pono fishing practices can help corals to recover from this bleaching event," DLNR chair Suzanne Case said regarding response efforts. The organization has reportedly begun monitoring and partnering with state officials to properly respond to the predicament.

"If we fail to protect [coral reefs] and lose them, it could have tremendously negative impacts not only on the overall ocean ecosystem but on Hawaii's economy," Case said.

Little-studied species of tiny crabs are at risk of extinction, researchers say, as coral reefs continue to disappear.

A new study by researchers from the University of Florida highlights the increasingly vulnerability of cryptochirid crabs, sometimes called gall crabs or coral gall crabs. There 52 known species of the minuscule crustaceans, some as small as a pea.

And as the new paper reveals, their tiny size is closely tied to their preferred coral environs. In tracing the body size of 792 species of prehistoric crabs and lobsters, post-doctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker found habitat -- particularly coral -- has a predominant influence on the evolution of body size.

As animal lineages diversify, body sizes increase, as a general rule. But while the same trends can be seen among crustacean lineages, researchers found minimum body sizes (the lower end of the evolutionary range) remained the same over time.

Researchers say that's because gall crabs evolved smaller body sizes as they diversified across new reef environs during the Mesozoic Era. The crabs' small sizes allow various species to slip into the cracks of intimate coral environs.

Together, these crabs and their coral homes have evolved a harmonious relationship. The coral crevices offer the crabs a place to hide and hunt, and the crabs can ward off small coral-eaters.

But in the Caribbean and elsewhere, coral reefs (and the tiny crabs that call them home) are struggling from threats of pollution, rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.

"The addition of human influences pushes some of these reefs over the edge," Klompmaker said in a press release. "Many species of crab are so strongly adapted to reef life, they simply won't survive elsewhere, including 52 species of tiny cryptochirid crabs that live inside corals all over the world, including in Florida."

Unless more is done to protect coral, Klompmaker says unique species like cryptochirid crabs will soon be gone.


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