Phototropic growth in a reef flat acroporid branching coral species

Paulina Kaniewska*, Paul R. Campbell, Maoz Fine, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Many terrestrial plants form complex morphological structures and will alter these growth patterns in response to light direction. Similarly reef building corals have high morphological variation across coral families, with many species also displaying phenotypic plasticity across environmental gradients. In particular, the colony geometry in branching corals is altered by the frequency, location and direction of branch initiation and growth. This study demonstrates that for the branching species Acropora pulchra, light plays a key role in axial polyp differentiation and therefore axial corallite development - the basis for new branch formation. A. pulchra branches exhibited a directional growth response, with axial corallites only developing when light was available, and towards the incident light. Field experimentation revealed that there was a light intensity threshold of 45 μmol m-2s -1, below which axial corallites would not develop and this response was blue light (408-508 nm) dependent. There was a twofold increase in axial corallite growth above this light intensity threshold and a fourfold increase in axial corallite growth under the blue light treatment. These features of coral branch growth are highly reminiscent of the initiation of phototropic branch growth in terrestrial plants, which is directed by the blue light component of sunlight.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)662-667
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2009


  • Acropora pulchra
  • Axial polyp differentiation
  • Coral morphology
  • Light quality
  • Light quantity


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