Key functional role of the optical properties of coral skeletons in coral ecology and evolution

Susana Enríquez, Eugenio R. Méndez, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Roberto Iglesias-Prieto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Multiple scattering of light on coral skeleton enhances light absorption efficiency of coral symbionts and plays a key role in the regulation of their internal diffuse light field. To understand the dependence of this enhancement on skeleton meso-and macrostructure, we analysed the scattering abilities of naked coral skeletons for 74 Indo-Pacific species. Sensitive morphotypes to thermal and light stress, flat-extraplanate and branching corals, showed the most efficient structures, while massive-robust species were less efficient. The lowest light-enhancing scattering abilities were found for the most primitive colonial growth form: phaceloid. Accordingly, the development of highly efficient light-collecting structures versus the selection of less efficient but more robust holobionts to cope with light stress may constitute a trade-off in the evolution of modern symbiotic scleractinian corals, characterizing two successful adaptive solutions. The coincidence of the most important structural modifications with epitheca decline supports the importance of the enhancement of light transmission across coral skeleton in modern scleractinian diversification, and the central role of these symbioses in the design and optimization of coral skeleton. Furthermore, the same ability that lies at the heart of the success of symbiotic corals as coral-reef-builders can also explain the ‘Achilles’s heel’ of these symbioses in a warming ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20161667
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1853
StatePublished - Apr 26 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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