Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Devil in disguise: Small coral-eating worm may mean big trouble for reefs

Date:
April 11, 2014
Source:
University of Southampton
Summary:
A coral-eating flatworm has been identified as a potential threat for coral reefs. It is barely possible to see the parasitic worm Amakusaplana acroporae when it sits on its favorite hosts, the staghorn coral Acropora, thanks to its excellent camouflage. However, the researchers found that the small flatworm could cause significant damage to coral reefs.

This is an Amakusaplana flat worm on its host coral.
Credit: Professor Wiedenmann

New research from the University of Southampton has identified a coral-eating flatworm as a potential threat for coral reefs.

It is barely possible to see the parasitic worm Amakusaplana acroporae when it sits on its favourite hosts, the staghorn coral Acropora, thanks to its excellent camouflage. However, the researchers found that the small flatworm could cause significant damage to coral reefs.

The scientists from the University of Southampton, who are based at the Coral Reef Laboratory in the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, published the results of their research in the latest issue of the journal Coral Reefs.

Professor Jörg Wiedenmann, Professor of Biological Oceanography and Head of the University's Coral Reef Laboratory, says: "The biology of this worm is amazing. By using molecular biological techniques, we found out how the worm accomplishes this excellent camouflage: When eating the coral tissue it also takes up the symbiotic alga of the coral. Instead of digesting them completely, it keeps a certain number of them alive and distributes them in its guts so that it perfectly mimics the appearance of the coral. Moreover, it also incorporates the green fluorescent protein pigments that lend the glowing greenish colouration to the coral host to perfect its camouflage."

The flatworm has been scientifically described very recently and has been found in the wild only in one location on the Great Barrier Reef. In contrast, it is well known to aquarium hobbyists who keep staghorn corals and fear infestations of the parasite, since it can wipe out coral cultures within a short period of time.

Professor Wiedenmann explains: "At the moment, there are no known natural predators of this parasite and only consequent quarantine can efficiently control its spread in land-based coral cultures. The worm is already distributed in coral cultures all over the word including regions bordering coral reefs. We do not know whether the parasite occurs naturally in these reefs and if it is controlled by natural enemies there. If this is not the case, a release of the parasite into an environment which is not adapted to its presence might have unforeseeable consequences for the regional Acropora populations."

He adds: "It is important to continue to raise the awareness among aquarium hobbyists that tank inhabitants should never be returned to the wild, since this might unintentionally contribute to the spread of parasites and diseases. Moreover, the hosts of these parasites themselves -- corals, fishes and seaweeds -- can create dramatic problems for ecosystems to which they are non-native. The spread of the lionfish Pterois through the Caribbean or of Caulerpa algae through the Mediterranean Sea are examples of marine invasions by ornamental species. It would be good if every shop were obliged to take the animals that they have sold back if requested -- that would certainly reduce the risk of people releasing ornamental creatures in the wild when they feel that they cannot take care of them anymore."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Benjamin C. C. Hume, Cecilia D’Angelo, Anna Cunnington, Edward G. Smith, Jörg Wiedenmann. The corallivorous flatworm Amakusaplana acroporae: an invasive species threat to coral reefs? Coral Reefs, 2013; 33 (1): 267 DOI: 10.1007/s00338-013-1101-6

Cite This Page:

University of Southampton. "Devil in disguise: Small coral-eating worm may mean big trouble for reefs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140411091721.htm>.
University of Southampton. (2014, April 11). Devil in disguise: Small coral-eating worm may mean big trouble for reefs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140411091721.htm
University of Southampton. "Devil in disguise: Small coral-eating worm may mean big trouble for reefs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140411091721.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — The United Nations says water is a human right, but should it be free? Detroit has cut off water to residents who can't pay, and the U.N. isn't happy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) — Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins