Montipora coral (Montipora foliosa)

GenusMontiopora (1)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

Montipora foliosa is an encrusting coral typical of reefs in the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans (3) (4). This rather inconspicuous coral often forms colonies arranged in a plate-like structure. It has small polyps, with inward projecting teeth, arranged in rows between prominent skeletal ridges. One of the most remarkable and ecologically important features of some corals is that 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). Living colonies of Montipora foliosa are usually cream, brown or pink in colour (3) (4).

Montipora foliosa is found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, ranging from the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and southwest Indian Ocean, across the northern Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Gulf, to Southeast Asia, Japan and the East China Sea, and the West and Central Pacific Ocean (1).

This coral is found in shallow tropical reefs, occurring mostly on protected upper reef slopes, to depths of at least 20 metres (1). 

Like many coral species, the tissue of Montipora foliosa contains large numbers of single-celled algae called zooxanthellae. The coral and the algae have a symbiotic relationship in which the algae gain a safe, stable environment within the coral's tissues, while the coral receives nutrients produced by the algae through photosynthesis. By harnessing the sun's energy in this way, corals are able to grow rapidly and form vast reef structures, but are constrained to live near the water surface. While, on average, zooxanthellate coral can obtain around 70 percent of its nutrient requirements from zooxanthellae photosynthesis, the coral may also feed on zooplankton (3). 

With an estimated 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs already destroyed, Montipora foliosa faces many of the threats affecting coral reefs globally (5) (6). 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 (5). However, the major threat to corals is global climate change, with the expected rise in ocean temperatures increasing the risk of coral ‘bleaching’, in which the stressed coral expels its zooxanthellae, often resulting in the death of the coral. 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) (5) (6) (7). 

Montipora foliosa is particularly vulnerable to predation by the crown-of-thorns sea star, as this voracious starfish has been observed to preferentially prey upon corals of the genus Montipora. Populations of the crown-of-thorns sea star have greatly increased over recent decades, and outbreaks of this species have caused mass mortality in Montipora foliosa, as well as degrading the overall quality of the reef environment. Montipora foliosa may also be threatened in some areas by harvesting, with Indonesia being the biggest exporter of this species. It is, however, perhaps more resilient to global warming and reef disturbance than some other coral species, due to its fairly large range of depth tolerances (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 without a permit, Montipora foliosa also forms part of the reef community in numerous marine protected areas (1) (2). To specifically conserve this coral, recommendations have been made for a raft of studies into various aspects of its biology, population status, habitat and threats to its survival (1).

For further information on the conservation of coral reefs, see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
  2. CITES (September, 2010)
  3. Veron, J.E.N. (2000) Corals of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townville, Australia.
  4. Veron, J.E.N. (1986) Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. Angus and Robertson Publishers, UK.
  5. Wilkinson, C. (2004) Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004. Volume 3. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia.
  6. 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.
  7. Miththapala, S. (2008) Coral Reefs. Coastal Ecosystems Series (Volume 1). Ecosystems and Livelihoods Group Asia, IUCN, Colombo, Sri Lanka.