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The skeleton of Balanophyllia coral species suggests adaptive traits linked to the onset of mixotrophy.

  • Palazzo, Quinzia
  • Prada, Fiorella
  • Steffens, Tim
  • Fermani, Simona
  • Samorì, Chiara
  • Bernardi, Giacomo
  • Terrón-Sigler, Alexis
  • Sparla, Francesca
  • Falini, Giuseppe
  • Goffredo, Stefano
Publication Date
Nov 01, 2021
eScholarship - University of California
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The diversity in the skeletal features of coral species is an outcome of their evolution, distribution and habitat. Here, we explored, from macro- to nano-scale, the skeletal structural and compositional characteristics of three coral species belonging to the genus Balanophyllia having different trophic strategies. The goal is to address whether the onset of mixotrophy influenced the skeletal features of B. elegans, B. regia, and B. europaea. The macroscale data suggest that the presence of symbiotic algae in B. europaea can lead to a surplus of energy input that increases its growth rate and skeletal bulk density, leading to larger and denser corals compared to the azooxanthellate ones, B. regia and B. elegans. The symbiosis would also explain the higher intra-skeletal organic matrix (OM) content, which is constituted by macromolecules promoting the calcification, in B. europaea compared to the azooxanthellate species. The characterization of the soluble OM also revealed differences between B. europaea and the azooxanthellate species, which may be linked to diverse macromolecular machineries responsible for skeletal biosynthesis and final morphology. Differently, the crystallographic features were homogenous among species, suggesting that the basic building blocks of skeletons remained a conserved trait in these related species, regardless of the trophic strategy. These results show changes in skeletal phenotype that could be triggered by the onset of mixotrophy, as a consequence of the symbiotic association, displaying remarkable plasticity of coral skeletons which repeatedly allowed this coral group to adapt to a range of changing environments throughout its geological history.

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