The effect of gravity on coral morphology

Efrat Meroz, Itzchak Brickner, Yossi Loya, Adi Peretzman-Shemer, Micha Ilan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coral morphological variability reflects either genetic differences or environmentally induced phenotypic plasticity. We present two coral species that sense gravity and accordingly alter their morphology, as characterized by their slenderness (height to diameter) ratio (SR). We experimentally altered the direction (and intensity) of the gravitational resultant force acting along or perpendicular to the main body axis of coral polyps. We also manipulated light direction, in order to uncouple gravity and light effects on coral development. In the experiments, vertically growing polyps had significantly higher SR than their horizontal siblings even when grown in a centrifuge (experiencing different resultant gravitational forces in proximal and distal positions). Lowest SR was in horizontal side-illuminated polyps, and highest in vertical top-illuminated polyps. Adult colonies in situ showed the same pattern. Gravitational intensity also affected polyp growth form. However, polyp volume, dry skeleton weight and density in the various centrifuge positions, and in aquaria experiments, did not differ significantly. This reflects the coral's ability to sense altered gravity direction and intensity, and to react by changing the development pattern of their body morphology, but not the amount of skeleton deposited.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-720
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1492
StatePublished - 7 Apr 2002


  • Developmental plasticity
  • Light
  • Pattern formation
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Slenderness ratio
  • Stylophora pistillata


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