Acropora (Acropora loripes)
Acropora loripes is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).
Acropora loripes belongs to the ‘staghorn’ group of corals, which have characteristic branching growth forms and are among the fastest growing coral species. They are important and often dominant reef-builders (3). Like other colony-forming corals, colonies of Acropora loripes are composed of numerous small polyps. The polyps secrete a hard skeleton, called a ‘corallite’, which over successive generations contributes to the formation of a coral reef. The coral skeleton forms the bulk of the colony, with the living polyp tissue comprising only a thin veneer (3) (4).
The name Acropora literally means a porous stem or branch (5), but Acropora species express a much greater variety of growth forms than the name suggests. Acropora loripes colonies are usually branching, sometimes appearing ‘bottlebrush’, where individual branches have a number of compact sub-branches on the sides, but often ‘caespitose’, where the branches interlock. Colonies of Acropora loripes may also grow in thick plates or upright ‘bushes’ (3) (6) (7). The smooth, rounded corallites typically have thickened walls and may be tubular or somewhat spherical, although they vary in shape and size depending on whether they are radial (on the sides of branches) or axial (on the tips of branches).
Colonies of Acropora loripes are generally pale blue or brown, with whitish axial corallites (3) (6) (7).
Acropora loripes is found in the south-west and northern Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the central Indo-Pacific, around Australia, Southeast Asia and Japan, as well as the East China Sea and the west and central Pacific. It is also found around the Palau and Marianas Islands (1).
Acropora loripes occurs on upper reef slopes in shallow, tropical reefs, at depths of 5 to 25 metres (1) (7).
Like many corals, staghorn corals such as Acropora loripes have a special symbiotic relationship with algae, called zooxanthellae. The algae gain a safe, stable environment within the coral's tissues, while the coral receives nutrients produced by the algae through photosynthesis. While, on average, zooxanthellate coral can obtain around 70 percent of its nutrient requirements from photosynthesis by zooxanthellae, the coral may also feed on zooplankton (3).
Acropora loripes and its zooxanthellae are very sensitive to changes in water temperature and acidity. Any increase in water temperature greater than one or two degrees Celsius above the average can stress the coral and cause ‘bleaching’, a phenomenon in which the coral expels it zooxanthellae and turns white (3) (7).
Staghorn corals are reef-building, or ‘hermatypic’ corals, and are incredibly successful at building reefs for two main reasons. Firstly, they have light skeletons which allow them to grow quickly and out-compete their neighbouring corals. Secondly the corallite of a new polyp, is built by specialised ‘axial’ corallites. These axial corallites form the tips of branches and, as a result, all the corallites of a colony are closely interconnected and can grow in a coordinated manner. This means that by harnessing the sun's energy, staghorn corals are able to grow relatively rapidly and form vast reef structures, but are constrained to live near the water surface (3).
Very little is known about the specific reproductive biology of Acropora loripes, although it is likely to be able to reproduce both sexually and asexually. Asexual reproduction occurs via fragmentation, when a branch breaks off a colony, reattaches to the substrate and grows (3). Sexual reproduction occurs via the release of eggs and sperm into the water. On the Great Barrier Reef, most staghorn corals appear to sexually reproduce simultaneously (8), an incredible event that usually occurs on just a few nights soon after the full moon, during one or two specific months of the year (8) (9). Streams of pinkish eggs are released from corallites on the sides of branches, to be fertilised by sperm released from other polyps at the same time. The water turns milky from all the eggs and sperm released from thousands of colonies. The eggs and sperm form slicks on the surface that can be up to a few kilometres in length, making them visible from the air (10).Some of the resulting larvae from these mass spawnings settle quickly on the same reef, whilst others may drift around for months, finally settling on reefs
With an estimated 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs already destroyed, Acropora loripes faces many of the threats that are affecting coral reefs globally (11) (12).
Worldwide there is increasing pressure on coastal resources resulting from human population growth and development. There has been a significant increase in domestic and agricultural waste in the oceans, poor land-use practices that result in an increase in sediment running on to the reefs, and over-fishing, which can have ‘knock-on’ effects on the reef (11).
However, the major threat to corals is global climate change, with the expected rise in ocean temperatures increasing the risk of coral bleaching, often resulting in the death of the coral (12). Corals in the genus Acropora are particularly vulnerable to such bleaching events and typically take a long time to recover (1).
Climate change may also lead to more frequent, severe storms, which can damage reefs, and rising carbon dioxide levels may make the ocean increasingly acidic. Such stresses can also make corals more susceptible to disease, parasites and predators, such as the crown-of-thorns sea star (Acanthaster planci) (11) (12) (13).
Acropora species are also in the top three genera collected for the aquarium trade, and harvesting of wild colonies of Acropora loripes may pose some threat to this species (1).
In addition to being listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which makes it an offence to trade this species internationally without a permit, Acropora loripes also forms part of the reef community in several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (1) (2). To specifically conserve this coral, recommendations have been made for studies into various aspects of its biology, population status, habitat and threats to its survival (1).
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- Algae: simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
- Asexual reproduction: reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells (‘gametes’). In many species, asexual reproduction can occur by fission (or in plants ‘vegetative reproduction’); part of the organism breaks away and develops into a separate individual. Some animals, including vertebrates, can develop from unfertilised eggs; this process, known as parthenogenesis, gives rise to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent.
- Colonies: a group of organisms living together. Individuals in the group are not physiologically connected and may not be related, such as a colony of birds. Another meaning refers to organisms, such as bryozoans, which are composed of numerous genetically identical modules (also referred to as zooids or ‘individuals’), which are produced by budding and remain physiologically connected.
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Larvae: stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- Photosynthesis: metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
- Polyp: typically sedentary soft-bodied component of cnidaria, a group of simple aquatic animals including the sea anemones, corals and jellyfish. A polyp comprises a trunk that is fixed at the base, and a mouth that is placed at the opposite end of the trunk and is surrounded by tentacles.
- Spawning: the production or depositing of large quantities of eggs in water.
- Symbiotic relationship: relationship in which two organisms form a close association. The term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).
- Zooplankton: tiny aquatic animals that drift with currents or swim weakly in water.
IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
CITES (February, 2011)
- Veron, J.E.N. (2000) Corals of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townville, Australia.
- Wallace, C.C. (1999) Staghorn Corals of the World: A Revision of the Coral Genus Acropora. CSIRO, Collingwood, Australia.
- Acropora Biological Review Team. (2005) Atlantic Acropora Status Review Document. Report to National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office.
World Register of Marine Species - Acropora loripes (February, 2011)
- Veron, J.E.N. (1986) Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. Angus and Robertson Publishers, UK.
- Guest, J.R., Baird, A.H., Goh, B.P.L. and Chou, L.M. (2005) Reproductive seasonality in an equatorial assemblage of scleractinian corals.Coral Reefs, 24: 112-116.
- Baird, A.H., Marshall, P.A. and Wolstenholme, J. (2000)Latitudinal Variation in the Reproduction of Acropora in the Coral Sea. Proceedings 9th International Coral Reef Symposium, Bali, Indonesia.
- Guest, J.R., Baird, A.H., Goh, B.P.L. and Chou, L.M. (2005) Seasonal reproduction in equatorial reef corals. Invertebrate Reproduction and Development, 48(1–3): 207-218.
- Wilkinson, C. (2004) Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004. Volume 3. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia.
- Carpenter, K.E. et al. (2008) One-third of reef-building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts. Science, 321: 560-563.
- Miththapala, S. (2008) Coral Reefs. Coastal Ecosystems Series (Volume 1). Ecosystems and Livelihoods Group Asia, IUCN, Colombo, Sri Lanka.