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Results Probl Cell Differ. 2018;65:377-421. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-92486-1_18.

Coral Food, Feeding, Nutrition, and Secretion: A Review.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA.


Tropical scleractinian corals are dependent to varying degrees on their photosymbiotic partners. Under normal levels of temperature and irradiance, they can provide most, but not all, of the host's nutritional requirements. Heterotrophy is required to adequately supply critical nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. Scleractinian corals are known as mesozooplankton predators, and most employ tentacle capture. The ability to trap nano- and picoplankton has been demonstrated by several coral species and appears to fulfill a substantial proportion of their daily metabolic requirements. The mechanism of capture likely involves mucociliary activity or extracoelenteric digestion, but the relative contribution of these avenues have not been evaluated. Many corals employ mesenterial filaments to procure food in various forms, but the functional morphology and chemical activities of these structures have been poorly documented. Corals are capable of acquiring nutrition from particulate and dissolved organic matter, although the degree of reliance on these sources generally has not been established. Corals, including tropical, deep- and cold-water species, are known as a major source of carbon and other nutrients for benthic communities through the secretion of mucus, despite wide variation in chemical composition. Mucus is cycled through the planktonic microbial loop, the benthos, and the microbial community within the sediments. The consensus indicates that the dissolved organic fraction of mucus usually exceeds the insoluble portion, and both serve as sources for the growth of nano- and picoplankton. As many corals employ mucus to trap food, a portion is taken back during feeding. The net gain or loss has not been evaluated, although production is generally thought to exceed consumption. The same is true for the net uptake and loss of dissolved organic matter by mucus secretion. Octocorals are thought not to employ mucus capture or mesenterial filaments during feeding and generally rely on tentacular filtration of weakly swimming mesozooplankton, particulates, dissolved organic matter, and picoplankton. Nonsymbiotic species in the tropics favor phytoplankton and weakly swimming zooplankton. Azooxanthellate soft corals are opportunistic feeders and shift their diet according to the season from phyto- and nanoplankton in summer to primarily particulate organic matter (POM) in winter. Cold-water species favor POM, phytodetritus, microplankton, and larger zooplankton when available. Antipatharians apparently feed on mesozooplankton but also use mucus nets, possibly for capture of POM. Feeding modes in this group are poorly known.


Antipatharians; Dissolved and particulate organic carbon; Mesenterial filaments; Mesoplankton; Microbial loop; Microplankton; Mucus secretion; Nanoplankton; Nitrogen; Octocorals; Phosphorus; Picoplankton; Temperate and polar scleractinians; Tentacle capture; Tropical

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