Cold-Water Coral Species Can Recognize Unrelated Individuals

Written by on November 5, 2014 in Coral Reefs, Marine Life

Scientists from Scotland and Germany recently found that distinct individuals of the cold-water coral species Lophelia pertusa are able to fuse skeletons. The discovery that branches of different color corals had “flawlessly merged” was made with the help of a research submersible called JAGO, which is stationed at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.

Lophelia pertusa. Photo credit: NOAA Ocean Explorer, 2009.

Lophelia pertusa. Photo credit: NOAA Ocean Explorer, 2009.

“Normally it is very hard to see where one coral ends and another begins. But on our dives with JAGO, we were able to find reefs where orange and white types of the coral fused together,” Dr. Sebastian Hennige of the Heriot-Watt University explained in a news release.

Corals often react aggressively if they make contact with each other because it can be a form of competition, which can result in death. Researchers found that L. pertusa, on the other hand, can successfully fuse skeletons with genetically different individuals.

This discovery lead Dr. Hennige to believe that L. pertusa is able to recognize itself at a species level, which very clearly distinguish this species from tropical corals. Tropical reefs are stabilized by calcareous algae that grow on the ends of dead branches. Cold-water corals, however, don’t have access to sunlight so algae can’t grow on the reef. Instead, it appears that these corals maintain stability in a different way that saves energy while strengthening the reef. In their paper, the researchers note that the findings explain why this particular stony coral species is considered to be an excellent deep sea reef-builder.

“Given this plasticity, we hope that the coral will be able to cope with future climate changes,” Dr. Armin Form, a marine biologist at GEOMAR and co-author of the publication said. “But we are not sure if they can keep track with the rapid environmental changes we are already experiencing.”

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Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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