Annual reproductive cycle and unusual embryogenesis of a temperate coral in the Mediterranean Sea

Chiara Marchini, Valentina Airi, Roberto Fontana, Giada Tortorelli, Marta Rocchi, Giuseppe Falini, Oren Levy, Zvy Dubinsky, Stefano Goffredo

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The variety of reproductive processes and modes among coral species reflects their extraordinary regeneration ability. Scleractinians are an established example of clonal animals that can exhibit a mixed strategy of sexual and asexual reproduction to maintain their populations. This study provides the first description of the annual reproductive cycle and embryogenesis of the temperate species Caryophyllia inornata. Cytometric analyses were used to define the annual development of germ cells and embryogenesis. The species was gonochoric with three times more male polyps than female. Polyps were sexually mature from 6 to 8 mm length. Not only females, but also sexually inactive individuals (without germ cells) and males were found to brood their embryos. Spermaries required 12 months to reach maturity, while oogenesis seemed to occur more rapidly (5-6 months). Female polyps were found only during spring and summer. Furthermore, the rate of gamete development in both females and males increased significantly from March to May and fertilization was estimated to occur from April to July, when mature germ cells disappeared. Gametogenesis showed a strong seasonal influence, while embryos were found throughout the year in males and in sexually inactive individuals without a defined trend. This unusual embryogenesis suggests the possibility of agamic reproduction, which combined with sexual reproduction results in high fertility. This mechanism is uncommon and only four other scleractinians (Pocillopora damicornis, Tubastraea diaphana, T. coccinea and Oulastrea crispata) have been shown to generate their broods asexually. The precise nature of this process is still unknown.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0141162
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
StatePublished - 29 Oct 2015

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© 2015 Marchini et al.This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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