Durban — Research into South African coral reefs earned Dr Brent Chiazzari a PhD from the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) recently.
Chiazzari investigated Scleractinia, a marine invertebrate that forms coral reefs that are crucial ecosystems in the world's oceans. Chiazzari focused on the phylogenetics and evolution of hermatypic Scleractinia in South African coral reefs, which are ecologically significant, young and of local importance.
Chiazzari’s study assessed species richness through genetic and conventional techniques and provided an updated checklist for the region.
“As climate change may cause potential range shifts, this research is critical for understanding South African coral reefs' dynamics,” Chiazzari said.
Using diver surveys and collections, Chiazzari said he identified 148 species from 45 genera, including seven genera reported for the first time. He said the study also demonstrated deep genetic diversity and tested the presence of cryptic species.
Based on his findings, Chiazzari estimates the total number of species at around 180, confirming the uniqueness of South African coral reefs as distinct assemblages.
“These findings also underline the importance of securing coral biodiversity in the region and establish the region as a part of an interconnected community of the greater Western Indian Ocean,” he said.
Furthermore, Chiazzari said his PhD research arose from personal curiosity. ‘’After completing my honours degree, I was left with a lab notebook full of unanswered questions and unresolved issues that lingered in my mind,’’ he recalled.
Following an MSc detour that investigated the ultimate cause of the annual Sardine Run off the KZN coast using population genetics, he returned to his fascination with indigenous corals.
Moreover, having settled on a research topic that would have a meaningful impact on scientific advancement and conservation efforts while also making use of his skills, abilities and passion for diving, Chiazzari believes that his dissertation can serve as a foundation for future investigations on coral reefs in the region.
“I have provided a snapshot of the current biodiversity of hard corals, an important piece of the puzzle in environmental conservation. With the current uncertainty and concern surrounding the response of coral reefs to climate change and habitat destruction, I hope that my findings can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of how we can preserve our natural environment,” said Chiazzari
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