Paleoceanography of Coral Reefs in the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain

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Science  24 Jun 1988:
Vol. 240, Issue 4860, pp. 1737
DOI: 10.1126/science.240.4860.1737


The fossil record of shallow marine organisms in the Hawaiian Archipelago and Emperor seamount chain indicates that reef corals were absent during the first half of the Tertiary. Their appearance during the early Oligocene, 34 million years ago, is associated with several paleoceanographic events that appear to have combined to intensify gradually gyral surface currents in the north Pacific. This association suggests that corals were absent in the early Tertiary because of isolation of the Hawaiian Archipelago from the Indo-West Pacific (IWP), the center of reef coral abundance and diversity in the Pacific. Today, the number of species of reef corals in Hawaii is less than 10 percent of the number of species in the IWP. Since their initial colonization, reef corals have been present continuously in the Hawaiian Archipelago, although not without taxonomic change. Episodes of extinction and recolonization are the most likely cause of change in species composition. Recolonization from the IWP may also explain the low rate of endemism (about 20 percent) in the present-day coral fauna.