Marine Biodiversity

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 65–72 | Cite as

Differential morphological features of two Dendronephthya soft coral species suggest differences in feeding niches

Original Paper


Octocorals are characterized by pinnate tentacles and internal sclerites. Their feeding ability is determined by the morphological features of the polyps. Capture of their food by these corals is also affected by the flexibility of the colony, which in turn is determined by the features of the sclerites. We studied the morphological features of two azooxanthellate octocorals, Dendronephthya hemprichi and D. sinaiensis, whose depth distribution partially overlaps at Eilat (northern Red Sea). Following Gause’s Law, such coexistence is considered to be possible if each species is adapted to utilize different food items. In order to examine this Law, the features of the polyps of the two species and their sclerites were studied. Each side of their tentacles displays 11–13 pinnules, which are longer at the tentacles’ distal end compared to its median section and proximal end, with the distal pinnules of D. sinaiensis being longer than those of D. hemprichi. At the proximal end of the tentacles of D. sinaiensis, the pinnules emerge perpendicularly, unlike in D. hemprichi, where they emerge from the lateral sides; the distance between the rows of pinnules is, therefore, shorter for the former. These findings imply that the filtered phytoplankton by the two species may differ in size. Their sclerites also differ in size and shape, and therefore the expansion and contraction abilities of their polyps also differ, and may thus affect their respective feeding abilities. The findings indicate that D. hemprichi and D. sinaiensis are adapted to utilize different food items, and therefore support Gause’s Law and explain the coexistence of the two species.


Octocorallia Polyp morphology Gause’s Law Sclerites Niche overlap Feeding Red Sea 



We thank the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences at Eilat (IUI) for the use of facilities and assistance. We thank the Eilat-Ashqelon Pipe Line Company (EAPC) for cooperation and the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority for issuing the collection permit. We acknowledge Y. Delaria for SEM work, A. Shlagman for curatorial help, N. Paz for editorial assistance, and V. Wexsler for graphic work. We thank C. Lueter, Museum fuer Naturkunde, Berlin, for placing type material at our disposal. The study was in part supported by the Israel Cohen Chair in Environmental Zoology (Y. B.) and a grant from The Porter School of Environmental Studies (PSES) at Tel Aviv University. The article constitutes part of on MSc thesis in Ecology and Environmental Quality at Tel-Aviv University submitted by M. Grossowicz.


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg, Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life SciencesTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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