Geologica Belgica

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Luke D. NOTHDURFT & Gregory E. WEBB

Fusion or non fusion of coral fragments in Acropora

(volume 15 (2012) — number 4 - Proceedings of the XIth International Symposium on Fossil Cnidaria and Porifera)
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Mots-clés : scleractinian coral, coral reef, biomineralisation, skeletogenesis, clypeotheca, disturbance.


Corals inhabit high energy environments where frequent disturbances result in physical damage to coralla, including fragmentation, as well as generating and mobilizing large sediment clasts. The branching growth form common in the Acropora genus makes it particularly susceptible to such disturbances and therefore useful for study of the fate of large sediment clasts. Living Acropora samples with natural, extraneous, broken coral branches incorporated on their living surface and dead Acropora skeletons containing embedded clasts of isolated branch sections of Acropora were observed and/or collected from the reef flat of Heron Reef, southern Great Barrier Reef and Bargara, Australia respectively. Here we report three different outcomes when pebble-sized coral branches became lodged on living coral colonies during sedimentation events in natural settings in Acropora: 1) Where live coral branches produced during a disturbance event come to rest on probable genetic clone-mate colonies they become rapidly stabilised leading to complete soft tissue and skeletal fusion; 2) Where the branch and underlying colony are not clone-mates, but may still be the same or similar species, the branches still may be stabilised rapidly by soft tissue, but then one species will overgrow the other; and 3) Where branches represent dead skeletal debris, they are treated like any foreign clast and are surrounded by clypeotheca and incorporated into the corallum by overgrowth. The retention of branch fragments on colonies in high energy reef flat settings may suggest an active role of coral polyps to recognise and fuse with each other. Also, in all cases the healing of disturbed tissue and subsequent skeletal growth is an adaptation important for protecting colonies from invasion by parasites and other benthos following disturbance events and may also serve to increase corallum strength. Knowledge of such adaptations is important in studies of coral behaviour during periods of environmental stress.

To cite this article

Luke D. NOTHDURFT & Gregory E. WEBB, «Fusion or non fusion of coral fragments in Acropora», Geologica Belgica [En ligne], volume 15 (2012), number 4 - Proceedings of the XIth International Symposium on Fossil Cnidaria and Porifera, 394-400 URL :

About: Luke D. NOTHDURFT

School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, GPO Box 2434, Brisbane Qld 4001, Australia;

About: Gregory E. WEBB

School of Earth Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane Qld 4072, Australia;