, Volume 191, Issue 3, pp 621–632 | Cite as

Spatial distribution of damage affects the healing, growth, and morphology of coral

  • Elizabeth A. HammanEmail author
Community ecology – original research


Many predators and herbivores do not kill their prey, but rather remove or damage tissue. Prey are often able to heal or regenerate this lost tissue. If the prey are modular organisms (e.g., some plants and cnidarians), regeneration is frequently influenced by other modules interconnected to damaged ones. For example, many coral predators remove tissue from colonies consisting of many polyps, and these polyps often share resources with their neighbors. Thus, the distribution of tissue loss on a coral colony could affect the coral’s response. I hypothesized that spatially aggregated damage might be slow to heal due to competing demands on nearby polyps. To explore the spatial patterns of corallivory and their implications, I conducted: (1) field surveys documenting the spatial distribution of lesions on corals; (2) field experiments testing the effect of the distance between lesions on coral tissue healing, skeletal growth, and morphology; and (3) field surveys relating corallivore presence to coral growth and morphology. In the field surveys, lesions were aggregated at multiple spatial scales, and most lesions had other lesions within 2 cm. When lesions were near one another, coral tissue regeneration was depressed, although there was no effect on whole colony growth. After a year, however, linear extension was lower in the neighborhood of the lesions. Additionally, gastropod corallivores (Coralliophila violacea) with low movement decreased coral growth and increased coral topographical complexity. These results suggest that corallivores that create clusters of coral damage have a greater effect on coral growth and recovery from damage than corallivores that spread damage throughout the colony.


Coral damage Coralliophila violacea Massive Porites Spatial distributions 



I thank Alissa Rubin, Luc Overholt, and Carly Roeser for assistance with image analysis, the Osenberg lab and Caitlin Cameron for helpful discussions, and Angela Mulligan, Julie Zill, and Morgan Farrell for field assistance. This work was supported by NSF grant OCE-1130359 and is a contribution from UC Berkeley’s Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station.

Author contribution statement

EAH conceived, designed, and executed this study and wrote the manuscript. No other person is entitled to authorship.


This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF Grant OCE-1130359)

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4509_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2286 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Odum School of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyRadford UniversityRadfordUSA

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