, Volume 325, Issue 2, pp 361-368
Date: 28 Mar 2006

In vivo light-microscopic documentation for primary calcification processes in the hermatypic coral Stylophora pistillata

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Skeletogenesis in the hermatypic coral Stylophora pistillata was studied by using the lateral skeleton preparative (LSP) assay, viz., a coral nubbin attached to a glass coverslip glued to the bottom of a Petri dish. Observations on tissue and skeletal growth were made by polarized microscopy and by using vital staining. The horizontal distal tissue edges developed thin transparent extensions of ectodermal and calicoblastic layers only. Four stages (I-IV) of skeletogenesis were observed at these edges, underneath the newly developed tissue. In stage I, a thin clear layer of coral tissue advanced 3–40 μm beyond the existing LSP peripheral zone, revealing no sign of spiculae deposition. At stage II, primary fusiform crystals (1 μm each) were deposited, forming a primary discontinuous skeletal front 5–30 μm away from the previously deposited skeleton. During stage III, needle-like crystals appeared, covering the primary fusiform crystals. Stage IV involved further lengthening of the needle-like crystals, a process that resulted in occlusion of the spaces between adjacent crystals. Calcification stages I-III developed within hours, whereas stage IV was completed in several days to weeks. Two basic skeletal structures, “scattered” and “laminar” skeletons, were formed, integrating the growth patterns of the needle-like crystals. High variation was recorded in the expression of the four calcification stages, either between different locations along a single LSP or between different preparations observed at the same diurnal time. All four skeletogenesis stages took place during both day and night periods, indicating that an intrinsic process controls S. pistillata calcification.

This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (206/01 to J.E.), by the BARD, US-Israel Bi-National Agricultural Research and Development, by INCO-DEV project (REEFRES), and by CORALZOO, EC Collective Research project.