The Coral Triangle is the global epicenter for marine biodiversity, yet the origins of this biodiversity remain an evolutionary and biogeographical mystery. This is largely due to our inability to understand mechanisms of allopatric speciation in the marine environment. It is also because of the lack of coordinated research efforts focused on this question across the different countries and cultures of the Coral Triangle.
The purpose of the CT-PIRE Project was to form new partnerships that can transform this epicenter of marine biodiversity into an epicenter of marine research and education. The research focused on questions fundamental to understanding speciation in marine environments, and address the major biogeographic hypotheses for the origins of high biodiversity in this region. We used a novel multi-disciplinary approach that combined geospatial modeling of ocean currents with comparative population genetics. Better understanding of the origins of species in the Coral Triangle will lead to a better understanding of how to safeguard this biodiversity, while the training of a new international cohort of scientists will provide the intellectual foundations for a stronger conservation movement in this region.
Coral Triangle PIRE (CT-PIRE)
CT-PIRE was a collaborative effort among marine biologists of the different countries of the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago (IMPA) and the United States. We tested the role of oceanographic and geological processes in creating regional barriers to gene flow, thus facilitating lineage diversification within the IMPA.
Examining the patterns of genetic connectivity across multiple codistributed taxa spanning the IMPA
We collected multi-locus population genetic data (sequence and microsatellites) from a broad range of marine species , including fish, corals and other invertebrates, sampled from 40 localities throughout the IMPA (see map). From these data we aimed to reconstruct the phylogeographic histories of each species, together with estimates of genetic structure among the sampled regions. Concordant phylogeographic patterns will indicate the action of a shared physical environment in helping to create the high modern levels of marine biodiversity in the IMPA.
Integrating estimates of genetic connectivity with predicted dispersal connectivity derived from explicit geospatial models
We made predictions of larval connectivity throughout the region using a spatially-explicit, biophysical modelling approach to determine contemporary as well as Pleistocene dispersal probabilities among reef habitats of the IMPA. Correlations between these model predictions and our empirical estimates of gene flow will elucidate the relative importance of a shared contemporary or historical oceanographic environment in creating patterns of genetic and species-level diversity.
Contributions to Regional Management
The reefs of the IMPA are some of the most critically threatened in the world. World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy are working with IMPA governmental and non-governmental organizations to develop networks of marine protected areas arranged in “sustainable seascapes”. Understanding patterns of connectivity is essential to developing marine protected area (MPA) networks, and our integrated genetic-geospatial modeling approach will produce the most detailed understanding to date of connectivity.
The CT-PIRE project surveyed phylogeographic patterns in a broad range of marine species, including stony corals, molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms and bony fish. Our criteria for selecting species included ease of sampling in the field, previous work and existing genetic markers, as well as aiming for a broad array of ecological niches and dispersal abilities.
Spearheading the US side of the collaboration were Old Dominion University, UCLA and Duke University. Researchers from these universities will be working in partnership with top universities and scientists in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to advance our understanding of the origins of high biodiversity within the Coral Triangle.
Comparative Phylogeography of the Coral Triangle and Implications for Marine Management. (DOWNLOAD PDF)
Carpenter K. E., P.H. Barber, E.D. Crandall, M.A. Ablan-Lagman, Ambariyanto, G. Ngurah Mahardika, B.M. Manjaji-Matsumoto, M.A. Juinio‐Meñez, M.D. Santos, C.J. Starger, and A. H. A. Toha. 2010. Journal of Marine Biology
Coral Triangle PIRE Project Management Plan
Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
US Peace Corps
Cornell University Life Sciences Core Laboratories Center
Cornell Computational Biology Service Unit
Global Marine Species Assessment
The Diversity Project
Wilderness Conservation Society
NOAA – Ocean Surface Current Analyses – Realtime
Southeast Asia Research Group – Royal Holloway University of London
Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab – Duke University
SEA-WP Connectivity Project
Funding for this project was made possible by the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) grant