The reef-building coral Turbinaria peltata forms colonies of flat, overlapping plates and occasionally vertical columns. A single colony, comprised of numerous individual polyps, can grow up to several metres in diameter. When the large, greyish-brown polyps are extended, as they frequently are during the day, the surface of the colony has a furry, carpet-like appearance (3)(4).
Unlike most corals within the family Dendrophyllidae, Turbinaria peltata is zooxanthellate. Zooxanthellate corals live in symbiosis with unicellular algae known as zooxanthellae, which are essential to their growth and survival. Protected within the coral tissue, the algae provide their hosts with nutrients and energy, whilst also helping to remove metabolic wastes. The cost of this symbiosis is that zooxanthellate corals are constrained to live in relatively shallow waters where the algae are able to photosynthesise(4).
All Turbinaria species breed during the autumn in falling sea temperatures. Unlike most corals which are hermaphroditic(4), Turbinaria have separate male and female sexes, and probably release gametes for external fertilisation(3).
Around one third of the world’s reef building corals are threatened with extinction (5). The principal threat to corals is the rise in sea temperature associated with global climate change. This leads to coral bleaching, where the symbiotic algae are expelled, leaving the corals weak and vulnerable to an increasing variety of harmful diseases. Climate change is also expected to increase ocean acidification and result in a greater frequency of extreme weather events such as destructive storms. This is not to mention the localised threats to coral reefs from pollution, destructive fishing practices, invasive species, human development, and other activities (1)(5).
Although Turbinaria peltata is still relatively widespread and common, evidence of an overall global decline in coral habitat is an indication that this species is almost certainly declining. On top of the multitudinous threats already described, Turbinaria peltata is heavily harvested in the aquarium trade, particularly in Indonesia, where pieces are exported in the tens of thousands (1).
In addition to being listed on Appendix II of CITES, which makes it an offence to trade Turbinaria peltata without a permit, this coral falls within several Marine Protected Areas across its range. To specifically conserve Turbinaria peltata, recommendations have been made for a raft of studies into various aspects of its taxonomy, biology and ecology, including an assessment of threats and potential recovery techniques. Given the current extent to which it is exploited in the aquarium trade, fisheries management and monitoring of the effects of harvesting are a particular priority in Indonesia (1).
Relating to corals: corals composed of numerous genetically identical individuals (also referred to as zooids or polyps), which are produced by budding and remain physiologically connected.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Reproductive cells which carry the genetic information from their parent, and are capable of fusing with gametes of the opposite sex to produce a fertilized egg. In animals, male gametes are called sperm and female gametes are called ova.
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
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.
Typically sedentary soft-bodied component of Cnidaria (corals, sea pens etc), which comprise of a trunk that is fixed at the base; the mouth is placed at the opposite end of the trunk, and is surrounded by tentacles.
Relationship in which two organisms form a close association, the term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).
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