A unique reproductive strategy in the mushroom coral Fungia fungites

Abstract

The vast majority of scleractinian corals are either simultaneous hermaphrodites or gonochoric. Exceptions to these are rare. Nevertheless, species belonging to the family Fungiidae are known to exhibit a wide variety of reproductive strategies. We examined the reproductive ecology of the mushroom coral Fungia fungites in Okinawa. Our study was conducted as part of a long-term, wide-ranging project (2009–2010 and 2013–2017) which explored the unique reproductive strategies of several species belonging to the family Fungiidae. Here we report the co-occurrence of males, females, and hermaphrodite individuals in a long-term monitored population of the reproductively atypical brooder coral F. fungites within the family Fungiidae. F. fungites status as a single-polyped solitary coral, was used to perform manipulative experiments to determine the degree of dependence of an individual coral on its conspecific neighbors for reproduction, and examined whether a constant sperm supply is obligatory for the continuous production of planulae. Isolated females of F. fungites exhibited a distinctive reproductive strategy, expressed in continuously releasing planulae also in the absence of males. Observations conducted on a daily basis for 2.5 months (throughout the reproductive season of 2015) revealed that some of these individuals released planulae continuously, often between tens and hundreds every day. In an effort to explain this phenomenon, three hypotheses are discussed: (1) Self-fertilization; (2) Asexual production of planulae (i.e., parthenogenetic larvae); and (3) Extended storage of sperm. Finally, we emphasize the importance of continuous and long-term monitoring of studies of coral reproduction; through further genetic studies of coral populations representing a broad range of species and their larval origin.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Sesoko Station, Tropical Biosphere Research Center, University of the Ryukyus, for the logistical support. We are indebted to I. Hosgin, Y. Nakano, R. Prasetia, Y. Rosenberg, J. Bergman and T. Eyal for help with the fieldwork in Okinawa. This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) No. 1191/16 to YL. LES was partially supported by the WDHOF graduate scholarships in marine conservation, the MERCI travel grant, the PADI Foundation and by the Ministry of Science, Technology & Space fellowship. GE was partly supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 796025. All samples were collected and treated according to regulations of Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.

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Correspondence to Yossi Loya.

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Eyal-Shaham, L., Eyal, G., Ben-Zvi, O. et al. A unique reproductive strategy in the mushroom coral Fungia fungites. Coral Reefs 39, 1793–1804 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-020-02004-7

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Keywords

  • Scleractinian coral reproduction
  • Reproductive plasticity
  • Mixed sexuality
  • Fungiidae
  • Sperm storage
  • Sperm limitation
  • Self-fertilization