Soft coral keepers can sleep better knowing that their corals also help build reef structure.
Scientists have long believed soft corals are only minor contributors to the structure of coral reefs. But that's not true, says research from Tel Aviv University.
Soft corals lack a calcium carbonate skeleton, one of the main contributors to building reef structure. Instead, soft corals contain tiny structures called sclerites, which look like pins which help soft corals to stay upright. Calcium carbonate can gradually cement sclerites together, forming reef structures that are very similar to stony corals, they discovered. Cemented sclerites can also form boulder-like structures. In either case, soft corals play a more crucial role in building reef habitat than scientists ever realized.
Previously, scientists believed soft corals simply disintegrated, their sclerites scattering to the sea floor. Rather, cemented sclerites help to form habitat for fish, algae, snails and other organisms that live in coral reefs. They also help to protect the shore from large waves.
Like hard corals, soft corals are at risk from ocean acidification, which dissolves calcareous structures. Further research will be done to better understand how quickly soft corals can form reefs, especially under stressful conditions like rising water acidity.
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