Repetitive sex change in the stony coral Herpolitha limax across a wide geographic range

Lee Eyal-Shaham, Gal Eyal, Kazuhiko Sakai, Yoko Nozawa, Saki Harii, Frederic Sinniger, Omri Bronstein, Or Ben-Zvi, Tom Shlesinger, Yossi Loya*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Sex change has been widely studied in animals and plants. However, the conditions favoring sex change, its mode and timing remain poorly known. Here, for the first time in stony corals, we report on a protandrous (youngest individuals are males) repetitive sex change exhibited by the fungiid coral Herpolitha limax across large spatial scales (the coral reefs of Japan, Jordan and Israel) and temporal scales (2004–2017). In contrast to most corals, this species is a daytime spawner (08:00–10:00 AM) that spawned at the same time/same date across all the study sites. The sporadically scattered populations of H. limax among the coral reefs of Eilat (Israel) and Aqaba (Jordan) exhibited significantly slower growth, earlier sex change, and lower percentages of reproduction and sex change in comparison to the densely aggregated populations in Okinawa (Japan). At all sites, sex ratio varied among years, but was almost always biased towards maleness. Growth rate decreased with size. We conclude that comparable to dioecious plants that display labile sexuality in response to energetic and/or environmental constraints, the repetitive sex change displayed by H. limax increases its overall fitness reinforcing the important role of reproductive plasticity in the Phylum Cnidaria in determining their evolutionary success.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2936
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019


FundersFunder number
Program Agency for International Development
U.S. Middle East Regional Cooperation
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science16H02490
Israel Science Foundation1191/16, 341/12


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