Abstract

Pocilloporid corals dominated shallow-water environments in the Caribbean during much of the Cenozoic; however, the regional diversity of this family declined over the last 15 My, culminating with the extinction of its final member, Pocillopora palmata, during the latest Pleistocene. Here we present a new record of P. palmata from Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys and infer its likely age. Although most existing records of P. palmata are from the sub-aerial reef deposits of MIS5e (∼ 125 ka), the presently submerged reef in the Dry Tortugas was too deep (> 18 m) during this period to support significant reef growth. In contrast, the maximum water depth during MIS5a (∼ 82 ka) was only ∼ 5.6 m, which would have been ideal for P. palmata. Diagenetic alteration prevented direct dating of the samples; however, the similarity between the depths of the Pleistocene bedrock in the Dry Tortugas and other reefs in the Florida Keys, which have been previously dated to MIS5a, support the conclusion that P. palmata likely grew in the Dry Tortugas during this period. Our study provides important new information on the history of P. palmata, but it also highlights the vital need for more comprehensive studies of the Quaternary history of Caribbean reef development. With modern reef degradation already driving yet another restructuring of Caribbean coral assemblages, insights from past extinctions may prove critical in determining the prognosis of Caribbean reefs in the future.

You do not currently have access to this article.