Behind the science:

Deep in shadows, deep in time: the oldest mesophotic coral ecosyste...

   2017, September 21
Posted by Veronica Radice

An interview with:
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Scleractinia (Hard Corals)



“Deep in shadows, deep in time: the oldest mesophotic coral ecosystems”

What was the most challenging aspect of your study (can be anything from field, lab to analysis)?

I visited the Laskowa quarry for the first time in 2005. At this time I was working on tabulate coral taxonomy (my Ph.D. research) and I had paid little attention to external shapes of colonies. Many years passed, and after coming back from ICRS in Hawai’i, I realized that the flat tabulates that I had described many years ago might be mesophotic. A few days later I drove from Warsaw to Laskowa for a reconnaissance trip. When I arrived, I was greatly disappointed – the quarry was four or five times bigger than what I remembered. I could not recognize any particular place. I spent five or six hours walking here and there and trying to identify any characteristic bed, or find any fossils, but without effect. At the end of the day I walked towards neglected, partly soil-covered corner, and after some time I started to find small brachiopods in the debris. Finally, I found several blocks containing fragments of frondescent Platyaxum tabulate and I knew that the bed must be somewhere above. It was too late in the day to continue, besides I did not have permission to operate in this part of the quarry. After two weeks, I came back together with Stanislaw Skompski, sedimentologist and a specialist on Palaeozoic algae. After some discussions with the quarry manager, concerning safety issues, we were allowed to go to the site. We started from the top of the wall, and soon after descending two exploitation levels down we found first corals – in the debris, and then in the bed! So the most important challenge was finding the “reefal” bed itself.

What was the most memorable moment in undertaking this study?

When we were near to finish the research, I presented the preliminary results at the Institute seminar. We proposed reconstructions of Platyaxum, a tabulate usually referred to as “plate-like” – we reconstructed it as frondescent, whorl forming colonies, which was a novelty. Our reconstruction was based on small fragments, and positions of some specimens in beds. At the end of my talk one of colleagues came and said that in an old teaching collection there is a similar specimen. The next day she brought the specimen – one third of a complete colony, of the exact shape like in our reconstructions! I was very happy to see that our reconstructions are correct.

The first block containing frondescent corals found (Laskowa Quarry, Holy Cross Mountains) (C) Mikolaj Zapalski
NE corner of the Laskowa Quarry. MCE bed is approximately where the person stands (near center of photo). (C) Mikolaj Zapalski

What was your favorite research site in this study and why?

Laskowa quarry, as the other site, Skały is overgrown and not much is visible.

Other than your co-authors, with whom would you like to share credit for this work?

Discussions with Brian Roy Rosen were very stimulating, as he brought my attention to platy corals and their photosymbiosis. Also field assistance of Adam T. Halamski, palaeontologist working on brachiopods was very helpful. Reconstructions published in our paper were drawn by Bogusław Waksmundzki, a colleague from our lab – I think that without his excellent work the text itself would not be sufficient to convince editors, referees and readers. The present research has been funded by the National Science Center of Poland (research grant 2013/09/D/ST10/04058).

Stanisław Skompski observing still unidentified sedimentary structures above the MCE beds (Laskowa Quarry, Holy Cross Mountains). (C) Mikolaj Zapalski
Creation of detailed log – beds are numbered, measured, and samples are taken. (C) Mikolaj Zapalski

Any important lessons learned (through mistakes, experience or methodological advances)?

Although geologists know that "Recent is a key to the past", this statement is sometimes underestimated.

Can we expect any follow-up on this work?

Possibly yes. We have a large collection of cryptic fauna living below the overhangs of corals and sponges, and this study should be completed soon. I also have a student working on ecological succession in the Laskowa “reef”, but the authorities of the quarry have been changed, and for the moment we do not have permission to access the site – but I hope that this problem will be resolved soon and we will be able to do some fieldwork before winter.

NE corner of the Laskowa Quarry. MCE bed is a yellowish unit below dark grey beds. (C) Mikolaj Zapalski
Adam T. Halamski collecting fossils (Laskowa Quarry, Holy Cross Mountains). (C) Mikolaj Zapalski

Featured article:

Deep in shadows, deep in time: the oldest mesophotic coral ecosystems from the Devonian of the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland) | article
Zapalski MK, Wrzolek T, Skompski S, Berkowski B (2017)
Coral Reefs 36:847-860