Royal Society Publishing

Morphogenesis of the branching reef coral Madracis mirabilis

Jaap A. Kaandorp, Peter M. A. Sloot, Roeland M. H. Merks, Rolf P. M. Bak, Mark J. A. Vermeij, Cornelia Maier


Understanding external deciding factors in growth and morphology of reef corals is essential to elucidate the role of corals in marine ecosystems, and to explain their susceptibility to pollution and global climate change. Here, we extend on a previously presented model for simulating the growth and form of a branching coral and we compare the simulated morphologies to three–dimensional (3D) images of the coral species Madracis mirabilis. Simulation experiments and isotope analyses of M. mirabilis skeletons indicate that external gradients of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) determine the morphogenesis of branching, phototrophic corals. In the simulations we use a first principle model of accretive growth based on local interactions between the polyps. The only species–specific information in the model is the average size of a polyp. From flow tank and simulation studies it is known that a relatively large stagnant and diffusion dominated region develops within a branching colony. We have used this information by assuming in our model that growth is entirely driven by a diffusion–limited process, where DIC supply represents the limiting factor. With such model constraints it is possible to generate morphologies that are virtually indistinguishable from the 3D images of the actual colonies.


  • Present address: Indiana University, Biocomplexity Institute, Department of Physics, Swain Hall West 025, 727 East Third Street, Bloomington, IN 474045-7105, USA.