The intra-skeletal fatty acid concentration and composition of four Mediterranean coral species, namely Cladocora caespitosa, Balanophyllia europaea, Astroides calycularis and Leptopsammia pruvoti, were examined in young and old individuals living in three different locations of the Mediterranean Sea. These species are characterized by diverse levels of organization (solitary or colonial) and trophic strategies (symbiotic or non-symbiotic). Fatty acids have manifold fundamental roles comprehensive of membrane structure fluidity, cell signaling and energy storage. For all species, except for B. europaea, the intra-skeletal fatty acid concentration was significantly higher in young individuals than in old ones. Moreover, fatty acid concentration was higher in colonial corals than in solitary ones and in the symbiotic corals compared to non-symbiotic ones. Analysis by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) revealed that palmitic acid (16:0) was the most abundant fatty acid, followed by stearic (18:0) in order of concentration. Oleic acid (18:1) was detected as the third main component only in skeletons from symbiotic corals. These results suggest that, in the limits of the studied species, intra-skeletal fatty acid composition and concentration may be used for specific cases as a proxy of level of organization and trophic strategy, and eventually coral age.
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