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Breaking up isn't hard to do -- the secret lives of corals on dark and stormy nights
Date:3/1/2012

embryos". The scientists were able to create these turbulent conditions in the laboratory simply by pouring embryos floating in seawater over a vertical distance of 30 cm.

"This effectively mimics the kind of wave height generated by moderate wind speeds where small breaking waves, commonly called whitecaps, occur. That sort of weather is often encountered during a night of coral spawning on the Great Barrier Reef," says Dr Negri. "So it's highly likely that this fragmentation occurs regularly on nights when corals release their eggs.

"It appears that the lack of protective membrane is no accident. Almost half of all these naked embryos fragmented in our experiments, suggesting that this has long been part of the corals' repertoire for maximising the impact of their reproductive efforts".

Dr Heyward explains why discovery of this novel reproductive strategy is so significant. "This mixed breeding system means colonising corals benefit simultaneously from the advantages of both sexual and asexual reproduction.

"Much like humans, it's important that the offspring of corals have genetically distinct parents, but these embryos also readily clone to form multiple versions of themselves, and helps to explain how coral maximise their chances of finding a suitable habitat in which to settle and survive.

In human terms this is the equivalent of giving birth to identical twins, triplets, quadruplets and so on.

"This is another example of the complexity of these incredible animals and suggests that there may be more to learn about the lives of corals and their interaction with the environment."


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Contact: Wendy Ellery
w.ellery@aims.gov.au
61-07-475-34409
Australian Institute of Marine Science
Source:Eurekalert

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