Coral Reefs

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 667–676 | Cite as

Coral larvae settle at a higher frequency on red surfaces



Although chemical cues serve as the primary determinants of larval settlement and metamorphosis, light is also known to influence the behavior and the settlement of coral planulae. For example, Porites astreoides planulae settle preferentially on unconditioned red substrata. In order to test whether this behavior was a response to color and whether other species also demonstrate color preference, settlement choice experiments were conducted with P. astreoides and Acropora palmata. In these experiments, larvae were offered various types of plastic substrata representing three to seven different color choices. Both species consistently settled on red (or red and orange) substrata at a higher frequency than other colors. In one experiment, P. astreoides settled on 100% of red, plastic cable ties but failed to settle on green or white substrata. In a second experiment, 24% of larvae settled on red buttons, more than settled on six other colors combined. A. palmata settled on 80% of red and of orange cables ties but failed to settle on blue in one experiment and settled on a greater proportion of red acrylic squares than on four other colors or limestone controls in a second experiment. The consistency of the response across a variety of plastic materials suggests the response is related to long-wavelength photosensitivity. Fluorescence and reflectance spectra of experimental substrata demonstrated that the preferred substrata had spectra dominated by wavelengths greater than 550 nm with little or no reflection or emission of shorter wavelengths. These results suggest that some species of coral larvae may use spectral cues for fine-scale habitat selection during settlement. This behavior may be an adaptation to promote settlement in crustose coralline algae (CCA)-dominated habitats facilitating juvenile survival.


Coral Planulae Metamorphosis Color Porites astreoides Acropora palmata 



This project was facilitated by permits (FKNMS-2006-009, FKNMS-2006-026, FKNMS-20070114, FKNMS-2009-022) and logistic support from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Funding was provided by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, Sanctuary Friends Foundation of the Florida Keys, and Henry Foundation. We gratefully acknowledge assistance from D.Williams, L. Johnston, and a multitude of others involved in fieldwork and larval culture for the project. R. Ritson-Williams assisted with the collection and identification CCA. G. Gaidosh and K. Voss enabled measurements of fluorescence and reflectance spectra. E. Borneman provided helpful discussion on methods. We also thank M. Schmale, R. Albright, A. Baird, and four anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. M. Beard’s contribution (published here post-humously) was part of an internship conducted at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center as part of the Florida State University Certificate Program in Marine Biology.


  1. Albright R, Mason B, Miller M, Langdon C (2010) Ocean acidification compromises recruitment success of the threatened Caribbean coral Acropora palmata. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107:20400–20404CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnold SN, Steneck RS, Mumby PJ (2010) Running the gauntlet: inhibitory effects of algal turfs on the processes of coral recruitment. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 414:91–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Babcock R, Mundy C (1996) Coral recruitment: Consequences of settlement choice for early growth and survivorship in two scleractinians. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 206:179–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baird AH, Morse ANC (2004) Induction of metamorphosis in larvae of the brooding corals Acropora palifera and Stylophora pistillata. Mar Freshw Res 55:469–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baird AH, Babcock RC, Mundy CP (2003) Habitat selection by larvae influences the depth distribution of six common coral species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 252:289–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Birrell CL, McCook LJ, Willis BL (2005) Effects of algal turfs and sediment on coral settlement. Mar Pollut Bull 51:408–414CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Birrell CL, McCook LJ, Willis BL, Harrington L (2008) Chemical effects of macroalgae on larval settlement of the broadcast spawning coral Acropora millepora. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 362:129–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dove SG, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Ranganathan S (2001) Major colour patterns of reef-building corals are due to a family of GFP-like proteins. Coral Reefs 19:197–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. French CS, Young VK (1952) The fluorescence spectra of red algae and the transfer of energy from phycoerythrin to phycocyanin and chlorophyll. J Gen Physiol 35:873–890CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Gleason DF, Edmunds PJ, Gates RD (2006) Ultraviolet radiation effects on the behavior and recruitment of larvae from the reef coral Porites astreoides. Mar Biol 148:503–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gleason D, Danilowicz B, Nolan C (2009) Reef waters stimulate substratum exploration in planulae from brooding Caribbean corals. Coral Reefs 28:549–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Golbuu Y, Richmond RH (2007) Substratum preferences in planula larvae of two species of scleractinian corals, Goniastrea retiformis and Stylaraea punctata. Mar Biol 152:639–644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Harrington L, Fabricius K, De’ath G, Negri A (2004) Recognition and selection of settlement substrata determine post-settlement survival in corals. Ecology 85:3428–3437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hebets EA, Papaj DR (2005) Complex signal function: developing a framework of testable hypotheses. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 57:197–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heyward AJ, Negri AP (1999) Natural inducers for coral larval metamorphosis. Coral Reefs 18:273–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Joshi BN, Mohinuddin K (2003) Red light accelerates and melatonin retards metamorphosis of frog tadpoles. BMC Physiol 3:9CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Kawaguti S (1941) On the physiology of reef corals. V. Tropisms of coral planulae, considered as a factor of distribution of the reefs. Palao Trop Biol Stat Stud 2:319–328Google Scholar
  18. Kuffner IB, Paul VJ (2004) Effects of the benthic cyanobacterium Lyngbya majuscula on larval recruitment of the reef corals Acropora surculosa and Pocillopora damicornis. Coral Reefs 23:455–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kuffner IB, Walters LJ, Becerro MA, Paul VJ, Ritson-Williams R, Beach KS (2006) Inhibition of coral recruitment by macroalgae and cyanobacteria. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 323:107–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Levine JS, MacNichol EF (1982) Color vision in fishes. Sci Am 246:140–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Levy O, Appelbaum L, Leggat W, Gothlif Y, Hayward DC, Miller DJ, Hoegh-Guldberg O (2007) Light-responsive cryptochromes from a simple multicellular animal, the coral Acropora millepora. Science 18:467–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lythgoe JN (1979) The ecology of vision. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  23. Mazel CH, Fuchs E (2003) Contribution of fluorescence to the spectral signature and perceived color of corals. Limnol Oceanogr 48:390–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mazel CH, Cronin TW, Caldwell RL, Marshall NJ (2004) Fluorescent enhancement of signaling in a mantis shrimp. Science 303:51CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Miller MW, Szmant AM (2006) Lessons learned from experimental key-species restoration. In: Precht WF (ed) Coral reef restoration handbook: Rehabilitation of an ecosystem under siege. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp 219–234Google Scholar
  26. Morse DE, Hooker N, Morse ANC, Jensen RA (1988) Control of larval metamorphosis and recruitment in sympatric Agariciid corals. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 116:193–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Morse ANC, Iwao K, Baba M, Shimoike K, Hayashibara T, Omori M (1996) An ancient chemosensory mechanism brings new life to coral reefs. Biol Bull 191:149–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mundy CN, Babcock RC (1998) Role of light intensity and spectral quality in coral settlement: Implications for depth-dependent settlement? J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 223:235–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mundy C, Babcock R (2000) Are vertical distribution patterns of scleractinian corals maintained by pre- or post-settlement processes? A case study of three contrasting species. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 198:109–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Oswald F, Schmitt F, Leutenegger A, Ivanchenko S, D’Angelo C, Salih A, Maslakova S, Bulina M, Schirmbeck R, Nienhaus GU, Matz MV, Wiedenmann J (2007) Contributions of host and symbiont pigments to the coloration of reef corals. FEBS Lett 274:1102–1109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Partan S, Marler P (1999) Behavior—Communication goes multimodal. Science 283:1272–1273CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Petersen D, Laterveer M, Schuhmacher H (2005) Spatial and temporal variation in larval settlement of reef building corals in mariculture. Aquaculture 249:317–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Price N (2010) Habitat selection, facilitation, and biotic settlement cues affect distribution and performance of coral recruits in French Polynesia. Oecologia 163:747–758CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Raimondi PT, Morse ANC (2000) The consequences of complex larval behavior in a coral. Ecology 81:3193–3211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ritson-Williams R, Arnold S, Fogarty N, Steneck RS, Vermeij MJA, Paul VJ (2009) New perspectives on ecological mechanisms affecting coral recruitment on reefs. Smithson Contrib Mar Sci 38:437–457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ritson-Williams R, Paul VJ, Arnold SN, Steneck RS (2010) Larval settlement preferences and post-settlement survival of the threatened Caribbean corals Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis. Coral Reefs 29:71–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ross C, Ritson-Williams R, Pierce R, Bullington JB, Henry M, Paul VJ (2010) Effects of the Florida red tide dinoflagellate, Karenia brevis, on oxidative stress and metamorphosis of larvae of the coral Porites astreoides. Harmful Algae 9:173–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shichida Y, Matsuyama T (2009) Evolution of opsins and phototransduction. Philos Trans R Soc B 364:2881–2895CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Steneck RS (1986) The ecology of coralline algal crusts: convergent patterns and adaptive strategies. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 17:273–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Suga H, Schmid V, Gehring WJ (2008) Evolution and functional diversity of jellyfish opsins. Curr Biol 18:51–55CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Szmant AM, Meadows MG (2006) Developmental changes in coral larval buoyancy and vertical swimming behavior: Implications for dispersal and connectivity. Proc 10th Int Coral Reef Symp 1:431–437Google Scholar
  42. Terakita A (2005) The opsins. Genome Biol 6:213CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Van der Horst M, Hellingwerf K (2004) Photoreceptor proteins, “Star actors of modern times”: a review of the functional dynamics in the structure of representative members of six different photoreceptor families. Acc Chem Res 37:13–20CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Vermeij MJA, Marhaver KL, Huijbers CM, Nagelkerken I, Simpson SD (2010) Coral larvae move toward reef sounds. PLOS ONE 5:e10660CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  45. Vize PD (2009) Transcriptome analysis of the circadian regulatory network in the coral Acropora millepora. Biol Bull 216:131–137CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Webster NS, Smith LD, Heyward AJ, Watts JEM, Webb RI, Blackall LL, Negri AP (2004) Metamorphosis of a scleractinian coral in response to microbial biofilms. Appl Environ Microbiol 70:1213–1221CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  47. Zahl PA, McLaughlin JJA (1959) Studies in marine biology. IV. On the role of algal cells in the tissues of marine invertebrates. J Protozool 6:344–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  3. 3.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Southeast Fisheries Science CenterMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations