Sexual reproduction in corals

Peter Harrison pharriso at
Wed Feb 21 17:14:02 EST 2001

>Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2001 08:51:29 +1100
>To: Ron Devine Vave <s96007966 at>
>From: Peter Harrison <pharriso at>
>Subject: Re: Coral Reproductive biology
>Dear Ron,
>I would suggest that a more efficient way of quantifying gametogenic
>patterns in reef corals is to dissect the polyps rather than use histology
>as the standard method. Dissections have the advantage of allowing
>examination of the whole of the polyp/mesenteries, whereas histological
>sections may miss some gamete development unless tedious serial sections
>are taken. If there are specific aspects that need need more detailed
>cytological study then histological sections can then be used on selected
>samples. Much of the detailed coral gametogenic pattern work over the past
>couple of decades done on the GBR and elsewhere around the world has been
>based on dissections, and except for very small polyped species (where
>histological sections are needed), dissections have been shown to be an
>efficient means of studying these aspects. In terms of assessing gamete
>maturity, visual inspection of broken sections of corals is the best guide
>to maturity and lunar month of spawning, and microscope slide squashes of
>live spermaries allows sperm maturaity and flagella activity to be
>monitored (e.g. Harrison et al. 1984, Babcock et al. 1986). Details on
>these techniques are available in some of the 'older' papers listed below.
>For standard fixing etc of coral reproductive samples, experience over the
>past two decades with a large range of coral species has shown that fixing
>in 10% formalin in seawater for at least 48 hours, decalcification in
>dilute HCl acid (for dissection) or Formic acid (for histology) and
>staining histo sections with a trichrome stain such as Gomori's trichrome
>to highlight and differentiate the mesogloea provides an excellent basis
>for coral reproductive studies.
>Some useful references on these techniques are listed below:
>Harrison, P.L., Babcock, R.C., Bull, G.D., Oliver, J.K., Wallace, C.C. and
>Willis, B.L. (1984). Mass spawning in tropical reef corals. Science, 223:
>Harrison, P.L. (1985). Sexual characteristics of scleractinian corals:
>systematic and evolutionary implications. Proc. Fifth Int. Coral Reef
>Congress, Tahiti, 4: 337-342.
>Willis, B.L., Babcock, R.C., Harrison, P.L., Oliver, J.K. and Wallace,
>C.C. (1985). Patterns in the mass spawning of corals on the Great Barrier
>Reef from 1981 to 1984. Proc. Fifth Int. Coral Reef Congress, Tahiti, 4:
>Babcock, R.C., Bull, G.D., Harrison, P.L., Heyward, A.J., Oliver, J.K. ,
>Wallace, C.C. and Willis, B.L. (1986). Synchronous spawning of 105
>scleractinian coral species on the Great Barrier Reef. Marine Biology, 90:
>Harrison, P.L. (1988). Pseudo-gynodioecy: an unusual breeding system in
>the scleractinian coral Galaxea fascicularis. Proc. Sixth Int. Coral Reef
>Symposium, Townsville, 2: 699-705.
>Oliver, J.K., Babcock, R.C., Harrison, P.L. and Willis, B.L. (1988). The
>geographic extent of mass spawning: clues to ultimate factors. Proc. Sixth
>Int. Coral Reef Symposium, Townsville, 2: 803-810.
>Harrison, P.L. (1990). Sperm morphology and fertilization strategies in
>scleractinian corals. Advances in Invertebrate Reproduction, Vol. 5:
>299-304. Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam.
>Wilson, J. and Harrison, P.L.. (1997). Sexual reproduction in high
>latitude coral communities on the Eastern Australian coast. Proc. 8th Int.
>Coral Reef Symposium, Panama, 1: 533-538.
>Ward, S. and Harrison, P.L.. (1997).  The effects of elevated nutrient
>levels on settlement of coral larvae during the ENCORE experiment, Great
>Barrier Reef, Australia.  Proc. 8th Int. Coral Reef Symposium, Panama, 1:
>Ward, S. and Harrison, P.L. (2000). Changes in gametogenesis and fecundity
>of acroporid corals that were exposed to elevated nitrogen and phosphorus
>during the ENCORE experiment. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and
>Ecology 246: 179-221.
>Harrison, P.L. (1980). The fine structure of Acropora formosa (Dana, 1846)
>(Scleractinia: Anthozoa). B.Sc. (Hons) Thesis, James Cook University of
>North Queensland, Townsville, 129 pp.
>Harrison, P.L. (1988). Comparative ultrastructure of scleractinian
>spermatozoa and its evolutionary implications. Ph.D. Thesis, James Cook
>University of North Queensland, Townsville, 282 pp.
>Harrison, P.L. and Wallace, C.C. (1990). Reproduction, dispersal and
>recruitment of scleractinian corals. Chapter 7. In: Z. Dubinsky (Editor),
>Coral Reef Ecosystems, Ecosystems of the World Vol. 25. pp. 133-207.
>Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam.  (>90% contribution)
>Harrison, P.L. and Jamieson, B.G.M. (1999). Cnidaria and Ctenophora. In
>B.G.M. Jamieson (Editor), Reproductive Biology of the Invertebrates,
>Volume IX Part A, Progress in Male Gamete Biology, Oxford-IBH.  pp. 21-95.
>Good luck with your study
>>Bula (Hello) from Fiji!
>>I'm an MSc student at the University of the South Pacific here in Fiji,
>>and would like to incorporate a study on the reproductive biology of coral
>>tissues as part of my research. I would like to employ histological
>>techniques (mentioned in Shimoike et al, 1992 but no procedures) in order
>>to examine the maturity of oocytes and testes in coral polyp tissues; if
>>possible to categorize the oocytes and spermaries into their developmental
>>categories (oocyte and spermary categories mentioned in Glynn et al,
>>Could someone please direct me to articles or books which outline the
>>procedures involved in the histological study of coral polyp tissues?
>>Books on histology that I have access to are: [a] Carleton, H. M. 1980.
>>Carleton's Histological technique, [b] Disbrey, B.D. 1970. Histological
>>laboratory methods. and [c] Luna, J.G. 1968. Manual of histologic staining
>>methods of the armed forces institute of pathology (used in Glynn et al,
>>Thanking you in advance for all your time and help.
>>Ron Devine Vave
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Dr Peter Harrison
Associate Professor in Ecology
School of Resource Science and Management
Southern Cross University
PO Box 157
Lismore NSW 2480

Phone: 0266 203774
Fax: 0266 212669
E-mail: pharriso at

International Phone: 61 266 203774

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