Overview

Comprehensive Description

Gorgonians, or soft corals, belong to the suborder Holaxonia. These colonial cnidarians are so named because they lack the permanent, rigid skeleton of hard corals. As octocorallians, they possess 8 tentacles and 8 complete mesentaries. Only a single siphonoglyph is present.Branches in gorgonians are arranged around a central axis.Leptogorgia virgulata colonies are moderately branching into whip-like stalks. Polyps occur in multiple rows along 2 sides of each branch. Branch color is variable and may range from shades of purple, red, orange or yellow. Polyps are white.
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Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Distribution

Virginian, southside of Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Source: World Register of Marine Species

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Leptogorgia virgulata occurs from New York and the Chesapeake Bay to Florida and Brazil. In the Indian River Lagoon, L. virgulata occurs on ledges, in inlets, and intracoastal waterways.
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© Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce

Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Physical Description

Size

Shallow inshore and offshore populations of Leptogorgia virgulata showed annual periodicity of concentric rings in the axial skeleton. However, no differences were observed in growth increments of colonies from either site (Mitchell 1993). Although spicule formation occurs throughout the colony, it is most rapid at the branch tip (Kingsley & Watabe 1989).Typical adult size of Leptogorgia virgulata is 15 - 20 cm.
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Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Look Alikes

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Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Ecology

Habitat

Depth range based on 108 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 71 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 2.4 - 220
  Temperature range (°C): 23.468 - 24.323
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.325 - 2.007
  Salinity (PPS): 35.580 - 36.231
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.519 - 4.902
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.100 - 0.180
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.756 - 1.524

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 2.4 - 220

Temperature range (°C): 23.468 - 24.323

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.325 - 2.007

Salinity (PPS): 35.580 - 36.231

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.519 - 4.902

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.100 - 0.180

Silicate (umol/l): 0.756 - 1.524
 
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Trophic Strategy

Suspension feeding on plankton and other small animals that come within range of the polyp's tentacles.Competitors: Leptogorgia virgulata exhibits both inhibitors and inducers of barnacle settlement (Standing et al 1984). Barnacle settlement inhibitors of L. virgulata are also effective against bryozoan larval settlement (Rittschof et al 1988). Antifouling agents against a benthic marine diatom are also exhibited by L. virgulata (Targett et al 1983). Laboratory experiments indicate that the combination of calcium carbonate spicules and secondary metabolites are effective against fish predation (Gerhart et al 1988). In addition, emitic properties of secondary metabolites from L. virgulata have induced learned aversions in several species of fish (Gerhart 1991). Habitat: Preferred substrata for Leptogorgia virgulata are rock and limestone ledges. Depth range is 3 - 20 meters.
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Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Associations

Associated species of Leptogorgia virgulata, occurring in a Thalassia testudinum meadow were dominated by a caprellid amphipod Caprella penantis, particularly when the seagrass dies off during the winter. When Caprella densities decreased on Leptogorgia, postlarval and decapod crustaceans increased (Caine 1983).
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Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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Population Biology

Common around the inlets of the IRL, and nearshore reefs.Locomotion: Sessile.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Habitat Structure
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Wikipedia

Leptogorgia virgulata

Leptogorgia virgulata, commonly known as the sea whip or colorful sea whip, is a species of soft coral in the family Gorgoniidae.[2]

Description[edit]

Leptogorgia virgulata is a colonial coral averaging about 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in height but sometimes reaching 1 metre (3.3 ft). It does not have the rigid calcium carbonate skeleton possessed by the true corals but its stalks have an internal, axial skeleton which is stiffened by sclerites and covered by an outer layer, the coenenchyme. It has an upright growth habit with vertical, whip-like stems, sparsely branching near the base. These are uniform in colour, ranging from yellow and orange to shades of red and mauve. The polyps are arranged in several rows along both sides of each branch. They are translucent white and each has eight tentacles and eight mesenteries. The colony has a single siphonoglyph.[3][4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Leptogorgia virgulata is found growing on rocks at depths down to 20 metres (66 ft) along the western fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. The range extends from Chesapeake Bay south to the Gulf of Mexico and the species also occurs in Brazil.[3] It is found on shallow water reefs, and also in estuaries and bays as it can tolerate low levels of salinity.[4]

Biology[edit]

The polyps are carnivores and extend their tentacles to catch zooplankton wafted past by the current.[2]

Colonies of Leptogorgia virgulata are gonochoristic, being either male or female. Gametes are released into the water column where they are fertilised. The larvae are planktonic and pass through a number of larval stages before settling on a suitable rocky substrate. Here they undergo metamorphosis and become feeding polyps which, in time, produce new polyps and develop into colonies. Mortality rates are high among new colonies.[5]

Ecology[edit]

Leptogorgia virgulata uses chemical defences to prevent algae, barnacles and bryozoans growing on the stalks.[6] It exudes protective substances which inhibit settlement of larvae. These products have been investigated and are being considered for use as anti-fouling agents to prevent the growth of marine organisms on man-made structures.[6] The snail Simnialena marferula feeds on debris around the coral and takes on the colour of the stems through assimilation of the pigments it contains. Larvae of the barnacle Conopea galeata tend to preferentially settle on the remains of the egg mass of the snail and the juvenile barnacle then becomes attached to the skeleton of the coral as the egg mass decays.[7] In fact this barnacle is an obligate commensal and the coenchyme of the coral grows to enclose it, leaving an aperture for the barnacle to feed and reproduce.[8]

Leptogorgia virgulata sometimes grows in meadows of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum where it is often associated with the amphipod Caprella penantis. In winter, when the seagrass dies down, decapod crustaceans move into the area.[3]

The oyster Pteria colymbus is often found attached to the coral. Other animals are camouflaged to resemble the coral in shape or colour. These include the shrimp Neopontonides beaufortensis [7] and the nudibranch Tritonia wellsi, also known as the sea whip slug. It is colourless and its branching gills resemble the polyps on which it feeds.[9][2]

The sclerites and certain secondary metabolites produced by Leptogorgia virgulata deter predation by fish. One such metabolite has emetic properties and has been demonstrated to produce a learning response in fish.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Leptogorgia virgulata (Lamarck, 1815) World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  2. ^ a b c Leptogorgia virgulata (sea whip), L. hebes (regal sea fan), and their associates South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  3. ^ a b c d Leptogorgia virgulata Smithsonian Marine Station. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
  4. ^ a b Leptogorgia virgulata (Lamarck, 1815) Guide to the shallow water corals of the South Atlantic Bight. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  5. ^ Reproduction in Octocorals (Subclass Octocorallia): A Review of Published Literature Anne Simpson, University of Maine. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  6. ^ a b Rittschof, D., I. R. Hooper, E. S. Branscomb and J. D. Costlow (1985). "Inhibition of barnacle settlement and behavior by natural products from whip corals, Leptogorgia virgulata (Lamarck, 1815)". Journal of Chemical Ecology 11 (5): 551–563. doi:10.1007/BF00988567. 
  7. ^ a b Patton, Wendell K. (1972). "Studies on the Animal Symbionts of the Gorgonian Coral, Leptogorgia Virgulata (Lamarck)". Bulletin of Marine Science 22 (2): 419–431. 
  8. ^ Conopea galeata South Georgia University. Retrieved 2011-12-05.
  9. ^ Ruppert, Edward E.; Richard S. Fox. Seashore animals of the Southeast: a guide to common shallow-water invertebrates of the Southeastern Atlantic Coast. p. 124. Retrieved 2011-12-05. 
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