Prudent sessile feeding by the corallivore snail Coralliophila violacea on coral energy sinks

U. Oren, I. Brickner, Y. Loya*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Convergence of form and function has accompanied the evolution of modular growth in terrestrial plants and colonial marine invertebrates. Part of this convergence is related to the optimal exploitation of resources (space and light) and the ability to translocate energy products from sources to sink sites. Feeding on the energy pathways and energy sinks of terrestrial plants is a well-known phenomenon. Hermatypic corals, the major organisms constructing tropical reef environments, contain photosynthetic algae (zooxanthellae), energetic products of which are translocated towards sink sites located at the corals' growing tips and regenerating areas. Despite the plant-coral convergence in energy pathways and sinks, there has been no evidence to date that coral energy sinks are exploited by coral predators. Gastropods of the genus Coralliophila are found feeding on coral margins, causing small and localized tissue damage. However, the ability of these snails to continue to feed without moving over a long period remains puzzling. Using a 14C labelling technique, we found that colony margins of the stony coral Porites function as major energy sinks. When snails inhabited these sites they incorporated significant amounts of 14C, indicating that they had fed on photosynthetic products translocated from the interior of the colony. Furthermore, when snails aggregate in the interior of the colony, thereby causing large surface injuries, they induce the development of significant new sink sites. This mode of prudent sessile feeding maximizes the efficiency of energy exploitation by the predatory snail, while minimizing tissue damage to the coral. The fact that energy sink sites occur in many coral species suggests that the strategy of sink exploitation for nutrition could also occur in many other marine host-symbiont relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2043-2050
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1410
StatePublished - 7 Nov 1998


  • Coralliophila violacea
  • Energy sinks
  • Feeding
  • Integration
  • Porites sp.
  • Red Sea


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