The potential for coral reef establishment through free-living stabilization

S. J. Hennige, H. L. Burdett, Gabriela Perna, A. W. Tudhope, N. A. Kamenos

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6 Scopus citations


Corals thrive in a variety of environments, from low wave and tidal energy lagoons, to high energy tidal reef flats, but remain dependent upon suitable substrate. Herein we reviewed the phenomenon of free-living corals (coralliths), examined whether they have the capacity to create their own stable habitat in otherwise uninhabitable, poor substrate environments through 'free-living stabilization', and explore their potential ecological role on coral reefs. This stabilization could be achieved by coral settlement and survival on mobile substrate, with subsequent growth into free-living coralliths until a critical mass is reached that prevents further movement. This allows for secondary reef colonization by other coral species. To preliminarily test this hypothesis we provide evidence that the potential to support secondary coral colonisation increases with corallith size. Due to the limited diversity of corallith species observed here and in the literature, and the lack of physiological differences exhibited by coralliths here to static controls, it seems likely that only a small selection of coral species have the ability to form coralliths, and the potential to create their own stable habitat.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 17 2017

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: This work was supported by various grants. An Independent Research Fellowship from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to SJH (NE/K009028/1 and NE/K009028/2). An Independent Research Fellowship from the Marine Alliance for Science & Technology for Scotland to HB. An Independent Research Fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh/Scottish Government (RSE 48701/1) and NERC (NE/H010025) to NAK. A Gilchrist Educational Trust with the Gilchrist Fieldwork Award administered by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and a Research Incentive Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland to HB, SH and NK (grant #70013). Field sampling was under permission from the Maldives Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture ((OTHR) 30-D/lNDIV/2015).


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