Diversity and Ecology of Soft Corals (Octocorallia, Alcyonacea) in Singapore

Project Number
RI 3/14 BG

Project Duration
April 2015 - April 2018

Status
In-Progress

Abstract
Research on the sub-tidal Octocorallia from the coral reefs of Singapore are few, due to the difficulty of identification to the species level. Additionally, soft corals have also been reported to produce natural compounds that have significant toxicity, and disrupting properties for molecular, cellular and physiological processes. To bridge the knowledge gaps, the PI and Co-PI have conducted a series of preliminary investigations on soft coral diversity on a few coral reefs south of Singapore mainland, as well as explored the chemical ecology of crude extracts derived from a few genera of soft corals through several BSc (Ed), BSc Honours, and MSc (LS) research projects at NIE/NTU. Preliminary results indicate that soft coral communities show significant patterns across coral reefs, and high biodiversity is centered on reefs in the vicinity of Sister’s Island, which has been designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the National Parks Board of Singapore, the National Authority on natural resource management and conservation. Preliminary research has also indicated that several species of soft coral produce biologically active compounds with cytotoxic and anti-fouling properties that may be potentially relevant to the marine industry. The proposed project aims to: A) provide a comprehensive survey of soft coral species diversity and ecology on Singapore reefs, with a focus on the MPA encompassing Sister's Island and surrounding reefs; B) analyse soft coral community characteristics, and identify trends that may be applied to designing tools to better manage reef ecosystems; and C) study the biological activity of selected species of soft corals, particularly focusing on toxicity, anti-fouling and anti-feeding properties. The research approach in this proposal integrates biological and chemical techniques, and examines the science from molecular-level to ecosystem-level perspectives, and is multi-disciplinary in nature. Hence, the framework proposed is able to support four MSc dissertations, one PhD thesis and six undergraduate research projects. Outputs and potential applications of the proposed research include the publication of a guidebook of soft coral biodiversity in Singapore that will be an important educational resource for schools and tertiary institutions; a management tool using soft coral community indices that can be applied to managing the new MPA in Singapore, and the identification of naturally derived active compounds that soft corals use to guard against biofouling and predation, that may be exploited further in the marine and shipping industry.

Funding Source
NIE

Related Projects