Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

zooxanthellate, free-living
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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Biology

Heliofungia corals can reproduce sexually or asexually. During sexual reproduction, eggs and sperm are released into the water, where the fertilized egg develops into larvae. Within a fortnight, the larvae will settle on to hard substrate. Asexually reproduced young coral, or acanthocauli, can develop from partly buried, damaged or dying parent tissue. Either way, the result is a vase-shaped polyp that gradually grows into a flattened disc, attached to the substrate via a stalk. The stalk of the 'mushroom' eventually dissolves, and the coral becomes mobile. The newly mobile coral rests on the bottom where it will mature and reproduce (2) (3). Heliofungia have microscopic algae (zooxanthellae) living within their tissues. Through photosynthesis, these symbiotic algae produce energy-rich molecules that the coral polyps can use as nutrition. In addition, the large polyps can use their long tentacles to capture prey (4)
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Description

Rather than forming colonies like most other corals, this mushroom coral is solitary and free-living; that is, it is not attached to the substrate (except for juveniles). The coral is flat with a large central mouth. The soft tissue surrounding the mouth is striped. The long dark purple or green tentacles with pale tips are extended day and night, and are similar to those of giant anemones. Very young Heliofungia (called acanthocauli) bear little resemblance to the adult form; they are shaped like flattened discs and are attached to the substrate via a stalk. Their resemblance to mushrooms gives these corals their common name. Heliofungia actiniformis used to be considered part of the Fungia genus, however, whilst the skeletons and habitat are very similar, they differ in their polyp structure (2).
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Comprehensive Description

Biology: Skeleton

More info
AuthorSkeleton?Mineral or Organic?MineralPercent Magnesium
Veron, 2000 YES MINERAL ARAGONITE
Cairns, Hoeksema, and van der Land, 1999 YES MINERAL ARAGONITE
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Distribution

Range Description

This species is found in the central Indo-Pacific, northwest, north and eastern Australia, south Japan and South China Sea, oceanic West Pacific.
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Range

Occurs around Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia (3).
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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

Description

Adult animals are free-living and monostomatous. Their outline varies from circular to oval; the coralla vary from flat to slightly arched. The corallum wall is solid and granulated. The septal margins are ornamented with lobate dentations. The sides of the dentations are covered by granulations which are radially arranged. The costal spines are laterally flattened with either a single row of granulations or several rows, each being oriented perpendicularly to the costal margin. The polyp is fleshy with thick, relatively long tentacles which give the animal an actiniarian-like appearance. The tentacles have knobbed tips (acrospheres).
  • Hoeksema, B.W., 1989. Taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of mushroom corals (Scleractinia: Fungiidae). Zoologische Verhandelingen, Leiden 254: 1-295.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species is usually found on reef flats and reef slopes as a free-living single polyp. The depth range is from 1-25 m (Hoeksema 1990). It may reproduce asexually by budding. Maximum size is 21 cm.

Systems
  • Marine
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Depth range based on 91 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 29 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 1 - 15
  Temperature range (°C): 25.235 - 28.365
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.088 - 0.528
  Salinity (PPS): 34.077 - 35.298
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.436 - 4.742
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.081 - 0.196
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.900 - 6.846

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 1 - 15

Temperature range (°C): 25.235 - 28.365

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.088 - 0.528

Salinity (PPS): 34.077 - 35.298

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.436 - 4.742

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.081 - 0.196

Silicate (umol/l): 0.900 - 6.846
 
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Usually found on flat, soft or rubble substrates especially in reef lagoons or shallow turbid environments (2).
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A4cd

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Hoeksema, B., Rogers, A. & Quibilan, M.

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

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is widespread and locally common throughout its range. However, it is heavily to harvested for aquarium trade and has suffered extensive reduction of coral reef habitat due to a combination of threats. Specific population trends are unknown but population reduction can be inferred from declines in habitat quality based on the combined estimates of both destroyed reefs and reefs at the critical stage of degradation within its range (Wilkinson 2004). Its threat susceptibility increases the likelihood of being lost within one generation in the future from reefs at a critical stage. Therefore, the estimated habitat degradation and loss of 36% over three generation lengths (30 years) is the best inference of population reduction and meets the threshold for Vulnerable under Criterion A4cd. It will be important to reassess this species in 10 years time because of predicted threats from climate change and ocean acidification.
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Status

Listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).
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Population

Population
This species is common.

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 particularly susceptible to bleaching, disease, and other threats and therefore population decline is based on both the percentage of destroyed reefs and critical reefs that are likely to be destroyed within 20 years (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 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
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
In one study, 1% of the specimens were recorded as bleached (Hoeksema 1991).

This species is targeted for the aquarium trade. Indonesia is the largest exporter with an annual quota of 48,500 live pieces in 2005. The total number of corals (live and raw) exported for this species in 2005 was 51,518. This species is one of the top ten most traded corals for aquarium industry (Raymakers 2001).

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.

Coral disease has emerged as a serious threat to coral reefs worldwide and 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 GBR were correlated with increased ocean temperatures (Willis et al. 2007) supporting the prediction that disease levels will be increasing with higher sea surface temperatures. Escalating anthropogenic stressors combined with the threats associated with global climate change of increases in coral disease, frequency and duration of coral bleaching and ocean acidification place coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific at high risk of collapse.

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.

The severity of these combined threats to the global population of each individual species is not known.
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Heliofungia 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. Over fishing has 'knock-on' effects that results 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 (5). Harvesting of corals may also pose a threat to Heliofungia. This species is one of the top ten species in the live coral trade, as its large, colourful polyps make it a desirable species in aquariums (6). However, it has a poor survival record in aquarium conditions as it is very sensitive (7), and therefore it may be need to be replaced frequently, resulting in greater demand for harvesting than other, more robust species.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Import of this species to E.U. countries was banned in 2003 under CITES regulations (this negative opinion is reviewed regularly and suspensions can be lifted/implemented in response to new data). Recommended conservation measures include population surveys to monitor the effects of collecting for the aquarium trade, especially in Indonesia.

All corals are listed on CITES Appendix II. Parts of the species’ range fall within Marine Protected Areas.

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., MPAs, 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. Recommended conservation measures include population surveys to monitor the effects of collecting for the aquarium trade, especially in Indonesia.
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Conservation

Heliofungia corals are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that trade in this species should be carefully regulated (1). Indonesia and Fiji have export quotas in place for this species (1). Heliofungia 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 (5).
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