Marine Biology

, Volume 105, Issue 1, pp 39–49

Mucous sheet formation on poritid corals: An evaluation of coral mucus as a nutrient source on reefs

  • M. A. Coffroth


The production, release, and subsequent consumption of coral mucus on reefs has been portrayed as a potential pathway for the transfer of coral and zooxanthellae production to other reef organisms. However, reported mucus production rates and analyses of nutritional value vary widely. Poritid corals provide a test system to measure mucus production because they produce mucous sheets which can be collected quantitatively. Fluid mucus and mucous sheets were collected fromPorites astreoides, P. furcata, P. divaricata during 1986 and 1987 on reefs in the San Blas Islands, Panama, La Parguera, Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys, USA. Mucus samples were collected from Indo-pacific poritids (P. australiensis, P. lutea, P. lobata, andP. murrayensis) on the Great Barrier Reef during 1985. Biochemical analyses of the fluid mucous secretions, and the derivative mucous sheet, indicate that the mucus is primarily a carbohydrateprotein complex.Porites fluid mucus had a mean caloric content of 4.7 cal mg−1 ash-free dry weight (AFDW), while mucous sheets contained 3.5 cal mg−1 AFDW. Sixty-eight percent of the mucous sheet was ash, while fluid mucus was 22% ash. The high ash and low organic contents suggest that mucous sheets have a low nutritional value. C:N ratios varied (range 6.9 to 13.7 for fluid mucus, and 4.8 to 5.9 for mucous sheets), but were similar to typical C:N ratios for marine organisms. Bacterial numbers and chlorophyll a concentrations were higher on mucous sheets than in the surrounding water. Although bacteria aggregate on mucous sheets, bacteria accounted for less than 0.1% of the carbon and nitrogen content of the mucous sheet. Lower C:N ratios in aged mucus, i.e. mucous sheets versus fluid mucus, were attributed to a loss of carbon rather than an increase in nitrogen. Mucous sheet production accounts for a small proportion (< 2% gross photosynthesis) of published values for coral production. In the San Blas Islands, Panama,P. astreoides produced mucous sheets at a rate of 1.5 g C m−2 y−1 and 0.3 g N m−2 y−1.P. astreoides andP. furcata produced mucous sheets with a lunar periodicity and may provide approximately monthly pulses of carbon and nitrogen to the reef food-web. However, the low annual production rates suggest that mucous sheets make a small contribution to overall energy flow on coral reefs.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. A. Coffroth
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Biology and Living Resources, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological Sciences, SUNY at BuffaloBuffaloUSA

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