Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

colonial, calcareous skeleton
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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Distribution

Range Description

This species is widespread in the Caribbean, and has a wide depth distribution. It is found in the southwest Gulf of Mexico (Tunnell 1988), the Cape Verde Islands (Laborel 1974), Brazil (Hetzel et al. 1994), and Florida (Humann and deLoach 2006). A species in Bermuda is also referred to as M. alcicornis but is very different from the rest of the Caribbean (Sterrer and Schoepfer-Sterrer 1986).
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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Geographic Range

Tropical/Subtropical Caribbean Sea

Biogeographic Regions: atlantic ocean (Native )

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Widespread distribution in the tropical western Atlantic, including the Gulf of Mexico, southern Florida and the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba, Belize, Puerto Rico, Lesser Antilles, Bonaire and Bermuda. A89LEW01FCUS, A84WEE01FCUS: Caribbean, American seas. B86STE01FCUS, A82DOD01FCUS, A85FRI01FCUS, A74SCO01FCUS, A78DRY01FCUS: Bermuda. A82CAI01FCUS: Belize. A88NEL01FCUS, A84BRI01FCUS, A77HOP01FCUS, A88TUN01FCUS: eastern and western Gulf of Mexico. A82DAV00FCUS, J89JAA00FCUS: Dry Tortugas. A87DUS00FCUS, O73ZIS00FCUS, A89GLY00FCUS, B84JAA00FCUS, A88JAA01FCUS, J88WHE00FCUS, U92SUL01FCUS: southern Florida and the Keys. A88LAN01FCUS: Bahamas. A88FEN00FCUS, A81JOR01FCUS: Yucatan, Mexico. A81LID01FCUS, A59GOR01FCUS: Jamaica. B82ZLA01FCUS, A74KUH01FCUS: Cuba. A76LOY01FCUS, A63ALM01FCUS, A70PRE01FCUS: Puerto Rico. A76GOO01FCUS, A79DUN01FCUS, A83ROG01FCUS, A87TOM01FCUS, A68ADA01FCUS: lesser Antilles. A74SCA01FCUS: Bonaire. A84LAS02FCUS: Panama.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species is the only Caribbean fire coral that commonly can be found deeper than 10 m, and is relatively uncommon in shallow surge zones (Humann and DeLoach 2006).

Millepora species are generally found in inshore areas characterized by turbidity, and exhibit a tolerance for siltation. They often occur in clear offshore sites (Lovell pers. comm.), commonly encrusting and overgrowing other species (Precht pers. comm.).

Systems
  • Marine
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Habitat Type: Marine

Comments: Overall depth range listed at 1-55 m and is common on most classes of marine hardbottom communities.

A89LEW01FCUS: 0-50 m, fore reef, lagoon, patch reef, bank reef, surf zone, reef flat, hard bottom in areas with intense to light wave movement. A84WEE01FCUS: less exposed sites of reefs and lagoons. A82CAI01FCUS: encrusts dead gorgonians. A87TOM01FCUS: back reef, reef flat, spur and groove. A68ADA01FCUS: fringing reefs, back reef and Alcyonaria/Porifera zone. A82DAV00FCUS: bank reef type. A79DUN01FCUS: leeward patch reefs. A85FRI01FCUS: overall depth range at Bermuda listed from 1 to 55 m. J88WHE00FCUS: spur and groove, fore reef, back reef. B84JAA00FCUS: spur and groove, bank reefs, low-relief hard bottom reefs, transitional reefs.

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Live attached to rocks and dead coral on reefs in colonies spread over an area of to several meters.

Aquatic Biomes: reef

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Depth range based on 1656 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 968 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 109.375
  Temperature range (°C): 19.819 - 28.067
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.161 - 8.028
  Salinity (PPS): 34.667 - 37.169
  Oxygen (ml/l): 3.986 - 4.966
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.020 - 0.379
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.866 - 5.080

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 0 - 109.375

Temperature range (°C): 19.819 - 28.067

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.161 - 8.028

Salinity (PPS): 34.667 - 37.169

Oxygen (ml/l): 3.986 - 4.966

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.020 - 0.379

Silicate (umol/l): 0.866 - 5.080
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

SEDENTARY

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Paralyse prey with nematocysts (stinging cells) , then draw into mouth opening.

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: Information is needed on the number of occurrences in the tropical western Atlantic.

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Global Abundance

2500 - 10,000 individuals

Comments: Common on most classes of marine hardbottom communities, including low-relief hardbottom areas, patch reefs, spur and groove reefs, fringing reefs and transitional reefs.

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General Ecology

A67RAN01FCUS: predators include filefish, Alutera scripta and Cantherines macrocerus. A84LAS02FCUS, A90WIL01FCUS, A90GHI01FCUS: susceptible to bleaching (loss of zooxanthellae) due to adverse environmental conditions. A89LEW01FCUS: important framework builder, rate of reef accretion estimated at 3.6m/1000 yrs. A80WAH01FCUS: colonies normally oriented perpendicular to swell motion. A88WIT01FCUS: preyed upon by Hermodice caruncullata. A76STR01FCUS: growth in direct sunlight estimated at 0.8 to 25.3 micrometers/24 h.

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Life History and Behavior

Reproduction

A88WIT01FCUS: may be gonochoric with infrequent breeding.

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Reproduce sexually; a fertilized egg develops into a small mobile larva covered with motile hairs (cilia); larvae generally planktonic.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Genomic DNA is available from 2 specimens with morphological vouchers housed at Australian Museum, Sydney
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Obura, D., Fenner, D., Hoeksema, B., Devantier, L. & Sheppard, C.

Reviewer/s
Livingstone, S., Polidoro, B. & Smith, J. (Global Marine Species Assessment)

Contributor/s

Justification
The most important known threat for this species is extensive reduction of coral reef habitat due to a combination of threats. Specific population trends are unknown but population reduction can be inferred from estimated habitat loss (Wilkinson 2004). This species is widespread in the Caribbean, can live in deeper waters, can rapidly recover from bleaching events and siltation, is common throughout its range, and therefore is likely to be more resilient to habitat loss and reef degradation because of an assumed large effective population size that is highly connected and/or stable with enhanced genetic variability. Therefore, the estimated habitat loss of 10% from reefs already destroyed within its range is the best inference of population reduction since it may survive in coral reefs already at the critical stage of degradation (Wilkinson 2004). This inference of population reduction over three generation lengths (30 years) does not meet the threshold of a threat category and this species is Least Concern. However, because of predicted threats from climate change and ocean acidification it will be important to reassess this species in 10 years or sooner, particularly if the species is also observed to disappear from reefs currently at the critical stage of reef degradation.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure

Reasons: Widespread distribution and occurs on most classes of marine hardbottom communities in the tropical western Atlantic. Little known concerning life history strategies. Species is considered susceptible to bleaching and moderate sediment loads.

Other Considerations: Colonies are very susceptible to anchor damage and diver-related damage.

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This species of fire coral lives on the coral reefs of the Caribbean, one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. While the fire coral are in no particular danger, the entire habitat is very sensitive to human destruction, over-fishing, and bleaching.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
This species is the most common of the Millepora genus in the Caribbean.

There is no species specific population information available for this species. However, there is evidence that overall coral reef habitat has declined, and this is used as a proxy for population decline for this species. This species is more resilient to some of the threats faced by corals and therefore population decline is estimated using the percentage of destroyed reefs only (Wilkinson 2004). We assume that most, if not all, mature individuals will be removed from a destroyed reef and that on average, the number of individuals on reefs are equal across its range and proportional to the percentage of destroyed reefs. Reef losses throughout the species' range have been estimated over three generations, two in the past and one projected into the future.

The age of first maturity of most reef building corals is typically three to eight years (Wallace 1999) and therefore we assume that average age of mature individuals is greater than eight years. Furthermore, based on average sizes and growth rates, we assume that average generation length is 10 years, unless otherwise stated. Total longevity is not known, but likely to be more than ten years. Therefore any population decline rates for the Red List assessment are measured over at least 30 years. Follow the link below for further details on population decline and generation length estimates.

Population Trend
Stable
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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)

Comments: Information is needed on the status and trend of extant populations.

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Threats

Major Threats
In 2005, 117 pieces of live Millepora alcicornis were exported for the aquarium and curio trade (E. Wood pers comm.).

This species has been reduced from historical baselines, but probably not much more than 10% except locally on some reefs. This species has been affected in past bleaching events but appears to recover more rapidly than most scleractinian species (Precht pers comm).

This genus is generally not found in aquarium trade, but is sometimes collected for curio and jewellery trade. This genus is generally susceptible to bleaching. They are some of the first hard corals to bleach but are resilient, being some of the first to recruit after the bleaching.

In general, the major threat to corals is global climate change, in particular, temperature extremes leading to bleaching and increased susceptibility to disease, increased severity of ENSO events and storms, and ocean acidification. In addition to global climate change, corals are also threatened by disease, and a number of localized threats. The severity of these combined threats to the global population of each individual species is not known.

Coral disease has emerged as a serious threat to coral reefs worldwide and is a major cause of reef deterioration (Weil et al. 2006). The numbers of diseases and coral species affected, as well as the distribution of diseases have all increased dramatically within the last decade (Porter et al. 2001, Green and Bruckner 2000, Sutherland et al. 2004, Weil 2004). Coral disease epizootics have resulted in significant losses of coral cover and were implicated in the dramatic decline of acroporids in the Florida Keys (Aronson and Precht 2001, Porter et al. 2001, Patterson et al. 2002). In the Indo-Pacific, disease is also on the rise with disease outbreaks recently reported from the Great Barrier Reef (Willis et al. 2004), Marshall Islands (Jacobson 2006) and the northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Aeby 2006). Increased coral disease levels on the Great Barrier Reef were correlated with increased ocean temperatures (Willis et al. 2007) supporting the prediction that disease levels will be increasing with higher sea surface temperatures.

Localized threats to corals include fisheries, human development (industry, settlement, tourism, and transportation), changes in native species dynamics (competitors, predators, pathogens and parasites), invasive species (competitors, predators, pathogens and parasites), dynamite fishing, chemical fishing, pollution from agriculture and industry, domestic pollution, sedimentation, and human recreation and tourism activities.
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Degree of Threat: C : Not very threatened throughout its range, communities often provide natural resources that when exploited alter the composition and structure over the short-term, or communities are self-protecting because they are unsuitable for other uses

Comments: Incidence of disease not reported but is susceptible to bleaching. Moderate sedimentation and eutrophication pose the greatest threats.

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
These non-scleractinian corals are listed under Appendix I and II of CITES. There are no records in the CITES database of exports of non-scleractinians by weight. Parts of this species distribution fall within several Marine Protected Areas within its range.

Recommended measures for conserving this species include research in taxonomy, population, abundance and trends, ecology and habitat status, threats and resilience to threats, restoration action; identification, establishment and management of new protected areas; expansion of protected areas; recovery management; and disease, pathogen and parasite management. Artificial propagation and techniques such as cryo-preservation of gametes may become important for conserving coral biodiversity.

Having timely access to national-level trade data for CITES analysis reports would be valuable for monitoring trends this species. The species is targeted by collectors for the aquarium trade and fisheries management is required for the species, e.g., Marine Protected Areas, quotas, size limits, etc. Consideration of the suitability of species for aquaria should also be included as part of fisheries management, and population surveys should be carried out to monitor the effects of harvesting.
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Biological Research Needs: Data needed on reproduction and recruitment patterns. Information needed on susceptibility to sedimentation, disease and nutrient overloading.

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Global Protection: Few to several (1-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Many protected occurrences in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Biscayne National Park, Florida.

Needs: Mooring buoys should be installed in marine protected areas.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Fire coral have no negative economic importance, although their sting can be very painful to humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The fire coral have no specific positive economic importance, but their habitat of tropical coral reefs are a very valuable economic resource. The reefs provide a rich fishery, which can be managed sustainably to provide a consistent source of food and revenue. Also, tourism, mostly via SCUBA divers, is very profitable due to the beauty and diversity of the reefs.

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Wikipedia

Millepora alcicornis

Millepora alcicornis, or sea ginger, is a species of colonial fire coral with a calcareous skeleton. It is found on shallow water coral reefs in the tropical west Atlantic Ocean. It shows a variety of different morphologies depending on its location. It feeds on plankton and derives part of its energy requirements from microalgae found within its tissues. It is an important member of the reef building community and subject to the same threats as other corals. It can cause painful stings to unwary divers.

Taxonomy[edit]

Millepora alcicornis is not a true coral in class Anthozoa but is in class Hydrozoa, and is more closely related to jellyfish than stony corals. Because of the variability in growth habit that this coral exhibits, it has been the subject of much confusion as to its taxonomy, being described under a number of different names from different localities. In 1898, Hickson decided that the variations in morphology were due to environmental factors and that Millepora alcicornis was the valid name for all these species. This conclusion has since been questioned.[3]

The species was first described by Linnaeus in 1758, but his type locality is unknown.[3] The scientific name comes from the Latin with Millepora meaning "thousand-pored" and alcicornis meaning "elk-horned". It seems likely that the type locality is in fact the West Indies. Explaining this in 1941 Crossland wrote "I cannot resist the remark that the one thing quite certain about the many forms of Millepora is that none of them have any resemblance to an elk's horn, except perhaps that from the West Indies".[3]

Description[edit]

The morphology of Millepora alcicornis is very variable. Most colonies probably start as encrusting forms and adopt a branching structure as they grow. The encrustations can become established on a variety of structures, not only on coral reefs and rocks but also on dead corals and the hulls of wrecked ships. Later development is in the form of plates or blades in habitats with much water movement such as the surf-pounded outer edges of reefs. In calmer waters, such as in deep lagoons or more sheltered parts of the reef, a more upright, leafy or branched structure develops which can grow to 50 centimetres (20 in) tall.[4][5] The habit of growth is also influenced by the inclination of the surface on which the fire coral grows. On vertical surfaces, the encrusting bases are larger with longer perimeters and the density of branching is lower than it is on horizontal surfaces.[6] The cylindrical branches usually grow in a single plane and span a range of hues from brown to pale, cream-like yellow, while branch tips are white.[4][5]

Embedded in the calcareous skeleton are numerous microscopic polyps. They are connected internally by a system of canals and are concealed behind pores in the skeleton, the surface of which is smooth and lacks the corallites of true stony corals. The polyps have specialist functions, the gastrozooids processing and digesting the food caught by the dactylzooids which are grouped around them. The gastrozooids are small and plump and extend four to six tentacle stubs through their pores but are otherwise invisible. The dactylzooids have hairlike tentacles covered in cnidoblasts. Stings from the cnidocysts immobilize an item of prey and the tentacles thrust it through the mouth of an adjacent gastrozooid, from where it passes into the stomach for digestion. The polyps also extrude the coenosteum, the calcareous material of which the skeleton is composed. The coenosteum contains certain symbiotic microalgae called zooxanthellae. These are photosynthetic organisms which provide their hosts with energy and in return benefit from a protective environment in a well lit position.[4] About 75% of the fire coral's energy requirements are provided by the zooxanthellae.[7]

Distribution[edit]

Millepora alcicornis is found in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, the Cape Verde Islands and along the coast of Central and South America as far south as Brazil. It has also been found in Bermuda, but the morphology at that location is so different from that in the rest of its range that it may be a distinct species.[8] It grows at depths of up to 40 metres (130 ft) and is the only fire coral that often grows at depths greater than 10 metres (33 ft).[5]

Biology[edit]

Millepora alcicornis feeds on plankton. The tentacles of the dactylzooids are normally extended all the time. If an object is waved about above the coral, it will cause the tentacles to retract and then the coral can be handled without experiencing the painful stings caused by the cnidocytes.[7]

Reproduction is by either asexual or sexual means. Parts of the coral may get detached from the colony by a storm or other means, and some of these fragments may end up in suitable locations to grow into new colonies which will be genetically identical to the parent colony. This fragmentation is probably the most frequent method of reproduction.[4] Alternatively, certain pores called ampullae contain polyps that bud off short-lived, jellyfish-like medusae, which separate from the colony. They produce gametes which, after fertilisation, develop into planula larvae. These drift with the currents as part of the zooplankton before settling out and developing into new colonies.[7]

Ecology[edit]

A number of species of shrimp and fish take refuge among the branches of Millepora alcicornis, seemingly immune to the venom. Hawkfish in particular often perch on top of the fire coral, perhaps protected by their skinless pectoral fins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Millepora alcicornis has few predators. The fireworm (Hermodice carunculata) sometimes grazes on it, but prefers other corals. Certain nudibranchs in the genus Phyllidia eat it as do filefish in the family Monacanthidae.[7]

It has been found that when Millepora alcicornis grows in close proximity to an arborescent gorgonian sea fan, the fire coral becomes aggressive. It produces "attack" branches which grow out sideways towards the sea fan, develop into hand-like structures and encircle and smother it. The fire coral then uses it as a substrate for new growth. Sometimes this new growth gets separated from the parent colony, and a new colony of fire coral is formed, genetically identical to the original one. This aggressive action is specific to gorgonians and does not happen in response to the close presence of other live or dead corals, other sessile invertebrates or open water. The fire coral seems to be able to detect the gorgonian's presence as a result of water flowing over the surfaces of both.[9]

Threats[edit]

Although not a true coral, Millepora alcicornis is subject to the same general threats that corals and coral reefs are facing. The greatest of these is global warming and the consequent rise in sea temperatures. Millepora alcicornis is one of the first corals to show bleaching as the symbiont zooxanthellae are killed. However, it is also more resilient than most and becomes re-established by recruitment earlier than the scleractinian corals. Other general threats to reefs include ocean acidification, pollution, sedimentation, invasive species and other changes in species dynamics, coral diseases, fisheries, leisure activities and tourism. Small quantities of Millepora alcicornis are gathered for sale to collectors.[1]

Human interactions[edit]

The cnidocytes of Millepora alcicornis are powerful enough to sting human skin. They can inject a venom that causes a painful burning sensation, skin eruptions, blisters and scarring.[4] The toxin has been investigated and is a water-soluble protein, 40 μg of which provides a median lethal dose to mice weighing 20 grams (0.71 oz).[10]

Millepora alcicornis has no commercial uses but is sometimes kept in reef aquaria. It requires high water movement and bright light to flourish and its health can be judged by its colour, a yellow hue showing health whereas a darker brown colour can indicate too little light. It can be difficult to control because it grows fast and spreads over other objects in the tank.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Millepora alcicornis IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2012-01-02.
  2. ^ a b Schuchert, Peter (2010). "Millepora alcicornis Linnaeus, 1758". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  3. ^ a b c Boschma, H. The species problem in Millepora. pp. 3–18. Retrieved 2012-01-03. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Fire Coral (Millepora alcicornis) Marine Invertebrates of Bermuda. Retrieved 2012-01-02.
  5. ^ a b c Branching fire coral (Millepora alcicornis) Marine Species Identification Portal. Retrieved 2012-01-03.
  6. ^ Edmunds, P. J. (1998). "The role of colony morphology and substratum inclination in the success of Millepora alcicornis on shallow coral reefs". Coral Reefs 18 (2): 133–140. doi:10.1007/s003380050167. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Venomous corals: The fire corals Coralmania. Retrieved 2012-01-02.
  8. ^ Sterrer, Wolfgang; Christiane Schoepfer-Sterrer (1986). Marine fauna and flora of Bermuda. Wiley. p. 134. 
  9. ^ Wahle, Charles M. (1980). "Detection, Pursuit, and Overgrowth of Tropical Gorgonians by Milleporid Hydrocorals: Perseus and Medusa Revisited". Science 209 (4457): 689–691. doi:10.1126/science.209.4457.689. 
  10. ^ Wittle, Lawrence W.; Robert E. Middlebrook; Charles E. Lane (1971). "Isolation and partial purification of a toxin from Millepora alcicornis". Toxicon 9 (4): 327–331. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(71)90129-2. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Weerdt (1984) provides a systematic description, synonomy, and notes on variability of morphology; closely related to M. complanata. Scatterday (1974) listed species as M. alcicornis forma alcicornis.

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