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Coralliophila abbreviata (Short Abbreviate Coral Shell)

Coralliophila abbreviata is a common Caribbean corallivorous gastropod on Neotropical coral reefs (Baums et al., 2003; Williams & Miller, 2011). Coralliophila abbreviata are members of Class: Gastropoda Orthogastropoda, Order: Neoastropoda, and Family: Muricidae CorallIophilinae. Members of the family Coralliphildae are known for their small size (20 to 25 mm long), and shells that contain spines or ribs with bright pink, purple, or white interior (Smith, 1951; Johnston & Miller, 2007), as well as having yellow or orange opercula (Knowlton et al., 1990). Coralliophila abbreviata shells are made of calcium carbonate. Younger shells have very rough spiral ridges on the shell’s surface, adult shells are usually eroded on the spire and covered with algae (Johnston 2012). These mollusks lack a radula and instead use enzymatic breakdown and proboscal pumping to consume coral (Brawley & Adey; 1982; Knowlton et al., 1990; Oren et al., 1998). Members of the genus Coralliophila are protandrous sequential hermaphrodites, spending the beginning of their lives as males and then transforming to females when it is most advantageous for the individual (Soong & Chen, 1991; Chen et al., 2003).  Sex changes would usually occur when females were absent, or lacking from a patch (Soong and Chen, 1991).  Coralliophila abbreviata can be found at the surface of the water and up to depths of sixty seven meters (219 feet).

C. abbreviata have had a steady increase in population size due to the removal of their competition and predators through natural disasters and human impacts (Williams & Miller, 2011). In reefs in Panama and Florida, C. abbreviata have been found occupying up to 50%-60% of the coral reef, inhabiting a variety of coral species (Carpenter, 1997). These corallivorous snails eat the live tissue, leaving exposed bare skeleton (Knowlton et al., 1990). This results in the possible loss of the coral colony and negatively affects the productivity of the coral reef (Baums et al., 2003; Rotjan et al., 2008). C. abbreviata is known to consume 26 species of scleractinian corals. It is commonly found on Acropora, Agaricia, and Montastraea coral species (Baums et al., 2003), howver, C. abbreviata snails have a greater tissue consumption rate on acroporid corals than any other prey species (Johnston 2012). Damage caused by C. abbreviata has been observed to have irreversible effects on corals such as Acropora palmata (Brawley & Adey, 1982; Hayes, 1990; Miller, 2001; Baums et al. 2003;Williams et al., 2011).

Research suggests that C. abbreviata are not significantly impacted by disturbances tht drastically damage the scleractinian corals, including disease, hurricanes, and bleaching. When coral populations are reduced by these disturbances, the C. abbreviata congregate on the remaining corals. This then causes further damage to the corals population decline. (Johnston 2012).

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© Matthew Fowler

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