Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Fire corals are hydrozoans, and thus have different type of polyps with different functions than anthozoan corals. The polyps of hydrozoans are near microscopic size and are mostly imbedded in the skeleton and connected by a network of minute canals. All that is visible on the smooth surface are pores of two sizes: gastropores and dactylopores. In fact, Millepora means 'many pores'. Dactylopores have long fine hairs that protrude from the skeleton. The hairs possess clusters of stinging cells (nematocysts) that inflict the stings on human skin. These hairs capture prey, which is then engulfed by gastrozooids, or feeding polyps, situated within the gastropores (2). As well as capturing prey, fire corals gain nutrients via their special symbiotic relationship with algae known as zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae live inside the tissues of the coral, and provide the coral with food, which they produce through photosynthesis, and therefore require sunlight. In return, the coral provides the algae with protection and access to sunlight. Reproduction in fire corals is more complex than in other reef-building corals. The polyps reproduce asexually, producing jellyfish-like medusae, which are released into the water from special cup-like structures known as ampullae. The medusae contain the reproductive organs that release eggs and sperm into the water. Fertilised eggs develop into free-swimming larvae that will eventually settle on the substrate and form new colonies. Fire corals can also reproduce asexually by fragmentation (4) (5).
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Description

Fire corals get their common name from the painful stings they inflict on divers (2). Approximately 50 species of fire coral have been described, which express an array of growth forms. Growth forms range from colonies composed of tree-like branches, solid colonies that are typically dome-shaped, or colonies that adhere closely to the substrate (2). These reef-building (hermatypic) corals can be green, cream or yellow, and those species with branches have hollow cores, containing oxygen, that can be easily broken (2) (3). Other species form thick and sturdy colonies capable of withstanding the strongest wave action (3).
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Distribution

Range

Occurs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans (3).
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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

Diagnosis

Hydroid colony forming massive, calcareous exoskeleton (= coenosteum) of varied shape; coenosteum with an internal complex network of coenosarcal tubes and covered externally by a thin ectodermal layer, coenosteal surface perforated by pores; margins of pores not protruding from surface of coenosteum; large gastropores surrounded by smaller dactylopores, forming indistinct cyclosystems; no gastrostyles and dactylostyles; polyps polymorphic; gastrozooids relatively short and stout, with an oral whorl of 4 to 7 short capitate tentacles, arising from gastropores; dactylozooids long, slender, mouthless, with scattered capitate tentacles, arising from dactylopores; cnidome with macrobasic mastigophores; gonophores arising from coenosarc within ampullae embedded in the coenosteum. Gonophore are free swimming eumedusoids with exumbrellar cnidocyst patches, narrow velum, radial and circular canals, ‘gonads’ occupying the place of an indistinct manubrium and without tentacles and sense organs.
  • Bouillon, J.; Gravili, C.; Pagès, F.; Gili, J.-M.; Boero, F. (2006). An introduction to Hydrozoa. Mémoires du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, 194. Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle: Paris, France. ISBN 2-85653-580-1. 591 + 1 cd-rom pp.
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Ecology

Habitat

Known from seamounts and knolls
  • Stocks, K. 2009. Seamounts Online: an online information system for seamount biology. Version 2009-1. World Wide Web electronic publication.
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Depth range based on 5564 specimens in 20 taxa.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 4039 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): -0.5 - 109.375
  Temperature range (°C): 19.819 - 28.866
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.024 - 8.028
  Salinity (PPS): 33.198 - 37.646
  Oxygen (ml/l): 3.986 - 4.966
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.020 - 0.566
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.805 - 6.552

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): -0.5 - 109.375

Temperature range (°C): 19.819 - 28.866

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.024 - 8.028

Salinity (PPS): 33.198 - 37.646

Oxygen (ml/l): 3.986 - 4.966

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.020 - 0.566

Silicate (umol/l): 0.805 - 6.552
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Fire corals form extensive outcrops on projecting parts of the reef where the tidal currents are strong. They are also abundant on upper reef slopes and in lagoons (3), and occur down to depths of 40 metres (4).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 384
Specimens with Sequences: 382
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Public Records: 380
Public BINs: 1
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Barcode data

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Conservation

Conservation Status

Status

Listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).
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Threats

Fire corals face the many threats that are impacting coral reefs globally. It is estimated that 20 percent of the world's coral reefs have already been effectively destroyed and show no immediate prospects of recovery, and 24 percent of the world's reefs are under imminent risk of collapse due to human pressures. These human impacts include poor land management practices that are releasing more sediment, nutrients and pollutants into the oceans and stressing the fragile reef ecosystem. Overfishing has 'knock-on' effects that result in the increase of macro-algae that can out-compete and smother corals, and fishing using destructive methods physically devastates the reef. A further potential threat is the increase of coral bleaching events, as a result of global climate change (6). Most fire coral species have brittle skeletons that can easily be broken, for example, during storms, or by divers (2). Divers can easily break the branches of fire corals when diving for leisure, or when collecting fish for the aquarium trade. For instance, the yellowtail damselfish tends to dwell close to the branching fire coral colonies, and retreats into its branches when threatened. In Brazil, fire coral colonies are extensively damaged when harvesting the yellowtail damselfish, as the corals are often deliberately smashed and fishes hiding amongst the branches are 'shaken out' into plastic bags (7).
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Management

Conservation

Fire corals are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that trade in these species should be carefully regulated (1). Indonesia and Fiji both have quota systems for corals, monitored though CITES (1). The aim of the quotas are to ensure harvests are kept at a sustainable level, but in reality they are hard to set at the right level due to a lack of knowledge regarding coral biology. Fire corals will form part of the marine community in many Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which offer coral reefs a degree of protection, and there are many calls from non-governmental organisations for larger MPAs to ensure the persistence of these unique and fascinating ecosystems (6).
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Wikipedia

Fire coral

Fire corals are colonial marine organisms that look rather like real coral. Technically they are not corals, since they are more closely related to Hydra and other hydrozoans. They are members of the phylum Cnidaria, class Hydrozoa, order Capitata, family Milleporidae.

Fire corals (Millepora boschmai)

Distinguishing characteristics[edit]

Fire corals have a bright yellow-green and brown skeletal covering and are widely distributed in tropical and subtropical waters. They appear in small brush-like growths on rocks and coral. Divers often mistake fire coral for seaweed, and accidental contact is common. Upon contact, an intense pain can be felt that can last from two days to two weeks. The very small nematocysts on fire corals contain tentacles that protrude from numerous surface pores (similar to jellyfish stings). In addition, fire corals have a sharp, calcified external skeleton that can scrape the skin.

Fire coral has several common growth forms; these include branching, plate, and encrusting. Branching adopts a calcerious structure which branches off, to rounded, finger-like tips. Plate growth adopts a shape similar to that of the smaller nonsheet lettuce corals - erect, thin sheets, which group together to form a colony. In encrusting growth, the fire coral forms on the calcerious structure of other coral or gorgonian structures.[1]

The gonophores in the family Milleporidae arise from the coenosarc (the hollow living tubes of the upright branching individuals of a colony) within chambers embedded entirely in the coenosteum (the calcareous mass forming the skeleton of a compound coral).

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Fire corals are found on reefs in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean Sea.[2] They form extensive outcrops on projecting parts of the reef where the tidal currents are strong. They are also abundant on upper reef slopes and in lagoons,[3] and occur down to 40 m deep.

Biology[edit]

The polyps of fire corals are near microscopic size and are mostly embedded in the skeleton and connected by a network of minute canals. All that is visible on the smooth surface are pores of two sizes: gastropores and dactylopores. In fact, Millepora means ‘thousand pores’. Dactylopores have long fine hairs that protrude from the skeleton. The hairs possess clusters of stinging cells and capture prey, which is then engulfed by gastrozooids, or feeding polyps, situated within the gastropores. As well as capturing prey, fire corals gain nutrients via their special symbiotic relationship with algae known as zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae live inside the tissues of the coral, and provide the coral with food, which they produce through photosynthesis, so require sunlight. In return, the coral provides the algae with protection and access to sunlight.[2]

Reproduction in fire corals is more complex than in other reef-building corals. The polyps reproduce asexually, producing jellyfish-like medusae, which are released into the water from special cup-like structures known as ampullae. The medusae contain the reproductive organs that release eggs and sperm into the water. Fertilised eggs develop into free-swimming larvae that will eventually settle on the substrate and form new colonies. Fire corals can also reproduce asexually by fragmentation.[4][5]

Threats and conservation[edit]

Fire corals face the many threats impacting coral reefs globally, including poor land management practices releasing more sediment, nutrients, and pollutants into the oceans and stressing the fragile reef ecosystem. Overfishing has ‘knock-on’ effects that result in the increase of macroalgae that can outcompete and smother corals, and fishing using destructive methods physically devastates the reef. A further potential threat is the increase of coral bleaching events, as a result of global climate change.[6]

Most fire coral species have brittle skeletons that can easily be broken, for example, during storms, or by divers when diving for leisure, or when collecting fish for the aquarium trade. For instance, the yellowtail damselfish (Chrysiptera parasema) tends to dwell close to the branching fire coral colonies, and retreats into its branches when threatened. In Brazil, fire coral colonies are extensively damaged when harvesting the yellowtail damselfish, as the corals are often deliberately smashed and fishes hiding amongst the branches are ‘shaken out’ into plastic bags.[7]

Fire corals are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).[8]

Species[edit]

Thirteen species of Millepora are currently recognised:[9]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

This article incorporates text from the ARKive fact-file "Fire coral" under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and the GFDL.

  1. ^ "The Fire Corals". Aquarium Net. October 1996. Retrieved 2007-07-03. 
  2. ^ a b Veron, J.E.N. (2000) Corals of the World. Vol. 3. Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, Townsville, Australia.
  3. ^ Veron, J.E.N. (1986) Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. Angus and Robertson Publishers, UK.
  4. ^ Wood, E.M. (1983) Reef corals of the world: biology and field guide. T.F.H. Publications, New Jersey, USA.
  5. ^ Wilkinson, C. (2004) Status of Coral Reefs of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia.
  6. ^ Wilkinson, C. (2004) Status of Coral Reefs around the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia.
  7. ^ Gasparini, J.L., Floeter, S.R., Ferreira, C.E.L. and Sazima, I. (2005) Marine ornamental trade in Brazil. Biodiversity and Conservation, 14: 2883 - 2899.
  8. ^ CITES: Appendices I, II and III Retrieved 2011-08-24.
  9. ^ Peter Schuchert (2011). "Millepora Linnaeus, 1758". In P. Schuchert. World Hydrozoa database. World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved November 2, 2011. 
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