Starry cup coral (Acanthastrea bowerbanki)

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Acanthastrea bowerbanki, detail of corallites
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Starry cup coral fact file

Starry cup coral description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumCnidaria
ClassAnthozoa
OrderScleractinia
FamilyMussidae
GenusAcanthastrea (1)

Acanthastrea bowerbanki is a relatively rare coral that forms small, encrusting colonies (3). Its colonies are usually pale grey or brown, and are often mottled in appearance (3). As in all corals, each colony of Acanthastrea bowerbanki is composed of numerous coral polyps, which are anemone-like animals that secrete a hard coral skeleton, known as ‘corallite’. Over successive generations, the build-up of corallites contributes to the formation of coral reefs (3).

Each Acanthastrea bowerbanki polyp possesses numerous tentacles which are extended at night in order to capture tiny zooplankton. These give an overall furry appearance to the coral (3) (4).

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Starry cup coral biology

The polyps of Acanthastrea bowerbanki, like those of other reef-building corals, have a symbiotic relationship with single-celled algae, called ‘zooxanthellae’, which lives within their tissues (3). Both parties gain from this relationship, with the photosynthetic zooxanthellae producing nutrients which nourish the coral polyp, and the coral providing the zooxanthellae with a protected environment and access to sunlight near the waters surface. It is thought that the coral can obtain around 70 percent of its nutrient requirements from this relationship (3). However, this reliance on sunlight for photosynthesis means that corals such as Acanthastrea bowerbanki are limited to living in relatively shallow, clear waters (3) (5).

Coral colonies can generally reproduce both sexually and asexually. The process by which they reproduce asexually is known as budding and involves the coral polyp dividing to form new polyps (3). For reproducing sexually, Acanthastrea bowerbanki is hermaphroditic, meaning each polyp produces both eggs and sperm, which are released into the water for external fertilisation. The age of first maturity for most reef-building corals is approximately three to eight years (6)

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Starry cup coral range

Acanthastrea bowerbanki is rare but widely distributed, being found in the Indo-West Pacific, including the waters of Australia and South East Asia, Japan and the East China Sea (1).

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Starry cup coral habitat

Acanthastrea bowerbanki is found primarily in shallow waters on lower reef slopes, which are protected from potentially damaging wave motion. The species may be found to depths of approximately 20 metres (1) (4)

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Starry cup coral status

Acanthastrea bowerbanki is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Starry cup coral threats

Coral species face numerous global threats and it is estimated that 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been destroyed (7) (8). Many of the remaining reefs are facing collapse or even extinction due to factors such as climate change and human interference. Localised human impacts, such as coral harvesting, pollution and impacts from fisheries and tourism all serve to damage coral reefs. Increasing temperatures resulting from climate change also increase the risk of coral ‘bleaching’, whereby the symbiotic zooxanthellae are lost, which often results in the death of the coral (7).

Acanthastrea bowerbanki is particularly susceptible to predation by the crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) (1). This species feeds on a wide range of coral species and is a voracious predator, having been known to wipe out large areas of coral reef (1). Outbreaks of the starfish may occur regularly and, due to the slow growth rate of coral, reefs may take decades to recover from such attacks (5) (7).

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Starry cup coral conservation

As with all coral species, Acanthastrea bowerbanki is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Therefore, trade in this species should be carefully regulated. Parts of the range of Acanthastrea bowerbanki fall within Marine Protected Areas, which offer reefs and the marine environment some degree of protection. However, regulation of these protected areas has proved to be somewhat difficult (1).

Recommended conservation measures for Acanthastrea bowerbanki include further research into its taxonomy, biology, population and habitat status. Techniques for artificial propagation, such as cryo-preservation (freezing) of gametes, may prove to be important tools in the maintenance of coral diversity (1).

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Find out more

Find out more about corals and coral conservation:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Algae
Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
Asexually
Of asexual reproduction: reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells (‘gametes’). In many species, asexual reproduction can occur by existing cells splitting into two, or part of the organism breaking away and developing into a separate individual. Some animals, including vertebrates, can also develop from unfertilised eggs; this process, known as parthenogenesis, gives rise to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent.
Budding
A type of asexual reproduction (reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells), in which new individuals develop from the parent organism, forming a swelling similar in appearance to a bud. The ‘bud’ slowly separates from the parent as it grows.
Colony
A group of organisms living together. In organisms such as corals, colonies may be composed of numerous genetically identical modules (also referred to as zooids or ‘individuals’), which are produced by budding and remain physiologically connected.
Fertilisation
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Hermaphroditic
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
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.
Photosynthetic
Capable of photosynthesis, a 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.
Symbiotic
Describes a 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.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. CITES (August, 2011)
    http://www.cites.org/
  3. Veron, J.E.N. (2000) Corals of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia.
  4. Veron, J.E.N. (1993) Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
  5. Miththapala, S. (2008) Coral Reefs. Coastal Ecosystems Series (Volume 1). Ecosystems and Livelihoods Group Asia, IUCN, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2008-012.pdf
  6. Wallace, C. (1999) Staghorn Corals of the World: A Revision of the genus Acropora. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria.
  7. 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.
  8. Wilkinson, C. (2008) Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Center, Townsville, Australia. Available at:
    http://www.gcrmn.org/status2008.aspx
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Image credit

Acanthastrea bowerbanki, detail of corallites  
Acanthastrea bowerbanki, detail of corallites

© Nevile Coleman / From Coral ID (Veron and Stafford-Smith, 2002)

Charlie (J.E.N) Veron
j.veron@coralreefresearch.com
http://www.coralreefresearch.org/

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