Project Title: AKCSI Project 9. Improving coral and sponge taxonomy
Project Summary

A team of scientists will identify the taxonomy of coral and sponge specimens collected during the 3-year fieldwork initiative.

Anticipated Management Application(s)

We have made considerable progress with the taxonomy of both corals and sponges in Alaska during the past decade but some corals and quite a few sponges have not been collected or properly identified. Taxonomic studies are critical for accurate measures of biodiversity that are often used to gauge the importance of habitats. Proper taxonomic identifications are also important for constructing identification guides to be used in the fisheries and surveys to record the location of coral and sponge taxa. These data can be used by resource managers to identify the locations of high biodiversity and abundance that might indicate the location of vulnerable marine ecosystems.  We anticipate that Project 1 would generate the majority of specimens for taxonomic work but all specimens collected during the 3-year initiative would be properly preserved and sent to collaborating taxonomists for identification.

Opportunistic collections from past expeditions in Alaska have provided samples for important studies of paleoclimatology, and microbial communities and marine natural products associated with deep-sea corals. Some corals, particularly Primnoa pacifica, can record oceanic productivity and nutrient dynamics in their skeletons providing important historical information. Many corals harbor unique microbial communities that may be performing important ecosystem functions such as cycling carbon, fixing nitrogen, chelating iron, and producing antibiotics. Corals and particularly some sponges have evolved the ability to produce or accumulate from associated microorganisms a diversity of unique chemical compounds or secondary metabolites that they utilize in predator defense, competition for resources, and as physiological adaptations to living in extreme environments. Many of the compounds are currently in early clinical or late preclinical development for use as treatments for cancer, tuberculosis, HIV, asthma, and many other diseases and ailments. Deep-water sponges show particular promise in this emerging research area, and several species collected from the Aleutian Islands as part of a pilot program in 2004 exhibited near 100% inhibition during primary screening for M. tuberculosis. Only a handful of sponge species from the Aleutian Islands have been examined for the presence of secondary metabolites, but so far “hit rates” for biomedically active compounds are on the order of 10% rather than 1% which is typical for samples collected elsewhere.

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Project Title: AKCSI Project 9. Improving coral and sponge taxonomy
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Project Title: AKCSI Project 9. Improving coral and sponge taxonomy
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