Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Very little information is available on Leiopathes corals. Their deep-water habitat suggests that, unlike many other corals, they do not possess the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, within their tissues. This means that they are not restricted to shallow, sunlit waters where the zooxanthellae can photosynthesise, and instead are able to inhabit deep and dark waters (6). It has recently been discovered that Leiopathes corals may be remarkably long-lived species. Research has revealed that Leiopathes glaberrima has a lifespan in excess of 4,000 years, making it the oldest known marine organism in existence (2).
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Description

One of the oldest known organisms in the sea (2), Leiopathes corals have, like all other black corals (those belonging to the order Antipatharia), a dark skeleton, after which they are named. The black skeleton of Leiopathes corals forms irregularly branching, tree-like structures. It grows in a sympodial manner; rather than the first stem growing continuously upwards with branches arising from it, the first stem will stop growing after a certain time, and a new branch will grow out from the side. This too will eventually terminate growth, and a side branch will continue to grow, and so on (3). The skeleton is covered with polyps, the soft bodied, colourful part of the coral. Each polyp is attached to the skeleton at the base, while the other end bears a mouth surrounded by tentacles (4).
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Distribution

Range

The complete distribution of Leiopathes corals is not clear, but Leiopathes species have been recorded in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (1).
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Ecology

Habitat

Depth range based on 85 specimens in 7 taxa.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 59 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 37 - 2350
  Temperature range (°C): 3.520 - 25.561
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.570 - 43.959
  Salinity (PPS): 34.113 - 38.549
  Oxygen (ml/l): 0.421 - 6.302
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.184 - 3.221
  Silicate (umol/l): 1.785 - 112.024

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 37 - 2350

Temperature range (°C): 3.520 - 25.561

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.570 - 43.959

Salinity (PPS): 34.113 - 38.549

Oxygen (ml/l): 0.421 - 6.302

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.184 - 3.221

Silicate (umol/l): 1.785 - 112.024
 
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Leiopathes corals are deep water species, known to occur at depths of at least 450 metres (5).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 2
Specimens with Sequences: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Public Records: 2
Public Species: 1
Public BINs: 1
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Barcode data

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Conservation

Conservation Status

Status

Listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).
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Threats

Many black corals are impacted by over-harvesting for the jewellery trade, where they are highly valued as their dark skeletons can be polished to a lustrous sheen (7). While Leiopathes glaberrima is currently not harvested, the discovery of its remarkably slow growth rates and old ages suggest that any exploitation of this species would not be sustainable (5), and therefore should be permanently banned (2). It is not clear whether other Leiopathes species are harvested, or whether they share the same incredible lifespan as L. glaberrima. Black corals around the world are also known to be impacted by habitat degradation, and recently, a small trade in live specimens for aquariums has been reported (7).
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Management

Conservation

Leiopathes corals are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that any trade in this ancient coral that does take place should be carefully regulated, to ensure its future survival (1).
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