Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Induction of metamorphosis in larvae of the brooding corals Acropora palifera and Stylophora pistillata

Andrew H. Baird A C and Aileen N. C. Morse B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, School of Marine Biology & Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia.

B Marine Biotechnology Center, Marine Science Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 55(5) 469-472
Submitted: 18 August 2003  Accepted: 23 April 2004   Published: 5 August 2004


Many coral larvae require surface contact with crustose red algae (CRA) to induce metamorphosis; however, many features of the ecology of pocilloporid corals, such as their ability to colonize primary substrata, suggest that their larvae respond to different cues. We compared the metamorphosis of larvae of the brooding corals Stylophora pistillata (family Pocilloporidae) and Acropora palifera (family Acroporidae) in response to a variety of environmental cues. Acropora palifera metamorphosed only in the presence of three species of CRA. In contrast, S. pistillata metamorphosed in all assays, except those containing the brown alga Lobophora sp. Metamorphosis was highest (80 ± 20%) in unfiltered sea water; however, metamorphosis also occurred in 0.2-μm filtered sea water. These results suggest that S. pistillata larvae respond to both large and small water-borne molecular cues. The lack of a stringent requirement for surface contact with CRA will allow S. pistillata larvae to pre-empt species that require a more developed fouling community to induce metamorphosis and this feature of larval ecology may be the key to understanding the success of many opportunistic benthic species.

Extra keywords: biofouling, dispersal, recruitment, settlement, succession.


This research was funded by a Merit Research Grant to A. H. B. from the Department of Marine Biology, James Cook University, and by NSF Award #OCE-9529730. Generous logistical support from the Department of Marine Biology, James Cook University, to A. N. C. M. is greatly appreciated. We thank Allan Stewart-Oaken for statistical advice, the staff at Orpheus Island Research Station and J. Aumend, G. Codina, C. Murchie, and D. Thomson for field assistance. Comments from V. Harriott, A. Heyward, A. Negri, M. Pratchett, S. Purcell, R. van Woesik and B. Willis greatly improved the manuscript. This is contribution number 202 of the Coral Ecology Group and number 88 of the Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity at James Cook University.


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