Sep. 22, 2014

Picture of the Week: Fused Staghorn Coral

by Chau Tu

Click to enlarge images
Marine biologist Colin Foord calls the fused staghorn coral seen above “a real survivor.”
Foord first came upon a colony of the Acropora prolifera—a hybrid of staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmata) corals—while diving around Miami’s Fisher Island in 2009. The discovery surprised him—he had seen staghorns and elkhorns before, and this coral looked somewhat similar, but it was a fluorescent green instead of brown. He soon realized that this creature was in fact a fused staghorn coral—a rare find outside of the Caribbean.
Foord, who is also the co-founder of an art and science studio in Miami called Coral Morphologic, continued to observe the organism and has found it to be especially hardy, surviving an unexpectedly cold winter for South Florida and fluctuations in ocean pollution and salinity. Foord was intrigued that the hybrid could seem so resilient, especially given that its parents are threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Biologist Nicole Fogarty, an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach, Florida, who studied the hybrid coral for her Ph.D., says she’s been hearing about more hybrid colonies popping up around the Atlantic in just the past decade. Her own research in the Caribbean has found that the corals are in some cases fending off disease and predation better than their parental species, which could be contributing to their viability.
The hybrid doesn’t seem to be any more vulnerable to bleaching compared to its parental species, either, says Fogarty, despite the fact that they live in two to three feet of water and are exposed to higher fluctuations in temperature. “They do seem to have a higher thermal tolerance, so they can live in these really harsh environments,” she says. (In fact, Fogarty is currently in St. Thomas, experimentally testing the hypothesis that A. prolifera can survive higher temperatures.)
As corals face a multitude of threats, from climate change to disease and parasitism, Fogarty says that A. prolifera could have staying power. “People are starting to realize that in light of everything—corals worldwide declining—we actually have this one ray of hope that this hybrid's actually doing quite well,” she says. “It seems to be a coral that might persist even with increased global temperatures.” Foord adds that, “this is a coral that has the potential for coral reef restoration.”
Propagating the fused staghorn through aquaculture in a laboratory could lead to a better understanding of why the species seems so hardy, says Foord. “[There’s] lots of research potential just into the genetics and its resilience,” he says.
But Florida’s environmental laws protect most corals from being taken—piecemeal or whole—from their natural habitat without special permissions and permits. Foord hasn’t gotten permission to take any samples of the fused staghorn growing in Miami for research, so he can only monitor the organism whenever he goes on dives.
Because it’s still the only colony he’s found so close to the shipping channel in Miami, he’s a little worried about it. Still, “I’ve seen it survive through all of these other things I was concerned about,” he says. “All I can do is hope it’s going to [continue proving] its hardiness.”
About Chau Tu

Chau is SciFri's web producer. She spends a lot of her time drinking coffee, seeking out street art, listening to music, and defending Los Angeles. Follow her @chaubtu

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.
EVAL ERROR: Entity: line 1: parser error : Space required after the Public Identifier

Entity: line 1: parser error : SystemLiteral " or ' expected

Entity: line 1: parser error : SYSTEM or PUBLIC, the URI is missing


line 1: package tmpevalpackage;
line 2: sub doEval { 
line 3: 	my($parent);
line 4: 	
line 5: 	if($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'SEGMENT.nickname'}) {
line 6: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'SEGMENT.nickname'};
line 7: 	}
line 8: 	elsif($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'VIDEO.nickname'}) {
line 9: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'VIDEO.nickname'};
line 10: 	}
line 11: 	elsif($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'DOCUMENT.nickname'}) {
line 12: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'DOCUMENT.nickname'}
line 13: 	}
line 14: 	
line 15: 	if($parent) {
line 16: 		my(@books) = &Database::SelectClause('BOOK',"parent = $parent");
line 17: 		if(!@books) {
line 18: 			$parent = '';
line 19: 		}
line 20: 	}
line 21: 	
line 22: 	if(!$parent) {
line 23: 		my(@sel) = &Database::SelectClause('GLOBAL','record all ""');
line 24: 		if(@sel) {
line 25: 			$parent = 'GLOBAL.' . $sel[0];
line 26: 		}
line 27: 			$main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "FEATURED READING";
line 28: 	}
line 29: 	
line 30: 	 = '';
line 31: 	
line 32: 	if($parent) {
line 33: 		my(@books) = &Database::SelectClause('BOOK',"parent = $parent");
line 34: 		0 = 0;
line 35: 		my $dots;
line 36: 		foreach(@books) {
line 37: 			my(%data);
line 38: 			&Database::GetRow($_,'BOOK',\%data);
line 39: 			my($status,$title,$author,$url,$image,$width,$height) = &SciFri::Schema::getAmazonItem($data{'isbn'});
line 40: 			if($data{'title'}) {
line 41: 				$title = $data{'title'};
line 42: 			}
line 43: 			if($data{'author'}) {
line 44: 				$author = $data{'author'};
line 45: 			}
line 46: 			if($status eq 'ok') {
line 47: 				 .= "<div class=\"box-2x1-item box-slide\" data-href=\"$url\">";
line 48: 				 .= "	<div class=\"box-2x1-item-photo\">";
line 49: 				 .= "		<div class=\"image-wrapper\" data-jsclass=\"imageWrapper\" data-align=\"right\">";
line 50: 				 .= "			<img src=\"$image\" data-width=\"$width\" data-height=\"$height\">";
line 51: 				 .= "		</div>";
line 52: 				 .= "	</div>";
line 53: 				 .= "	<h4>$title</h4>";
line 54: 				if($author) {
line 55: 					 .= "	<p>by $author</p>";
line 56: 				}
line 57: 				 .= "	<div class=\"box-2x1-more-button\"><a href=\"$url\"><img src=\"/images/v1/icon_text_more_white.png\" width=47 height=15 border=0></a></div>";
line 58: 				 .= "</div>";
line 59: 				++0;
line 60: 			}
line 61: 		}
line 62: 	}
line 63: 	if($parent eq "GLOBAL.1") { $main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "FEATURED READING"; }
line 64: 	else { $main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "RELATED READING"; }
line 65:  };
line 66: &doEval();
line 67: 1;

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.