Differential responses of coral larvae to the colour of ambient light guide them to suitable settlement microhabitat. Academic Article uri icon


  • Reef-building corals produce planktonic planula larvae that must select an appropriate habitat to settle and spend the rest of their life, a behaviour that plays a critical role in survival. Here, we report that larvae obtained from a deep-water population of Pseudodiploria strigosa settled more readily under blue light and in the dark, which aligns well with the light field characteristics of their natal habitat. By contrast, larvae of the shallow-water coral Acropora millepora settled in high proportions under blue and green light while settlement was less in the dark. Acropora millepora larvae also showed reduced settlement under red light, which should be abundant at shallow depth. Hypothesizing that this might be a mechanism preventing the larvae from settling on the exposed upwards-facing surfaces, we quantified A. millepora settlement in manipulated light chambers in situ on the reef. While A. millepora larvae naturally preferred settling on vertical rather than exposed horizontal surfaces, swapping the colours of upwards-facing and sideways-facing light fields was sufficient to invert this preference. We also tested if the variation in intrinsic red fluorescence in A. millepora larvae correlates with settlement rates, as has been suggested previously. We observed this correlation only in the absence of light, indicating that larval red fluorescent protein is probably not directly involved in light sensing. Our study reveals previously under-appreciated light-sensory capabilities in coral larvae, which could be an important axis of ecological differentiation between coral species and/or populations.

published proceedings

  • R Soc Open Sci

altmetric score

  • 17.35

author list (cited authors)

  • Strader, M. E., Davies, S. W., & Matz, M. V.

citation count

  • 43

complete list of authors

  • Strader, Marie E||Davies, Sarah W||Matz, Mikhail V

publication date

  • January 2015