Mushroom Coral Love Was Not In the Air

With our crew assembled and colleagues visiting from Washington State, we patiently waited last Friday for our Fungia to spawn.

Close-up of Mushroom Coral Displaying Green Florescent Protein in its Tentacles - Photo by V. Carter

Fungia scutaria, or mushroom coral have been kept in water tables out here at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology for many many years. Several research groups here work on them, and they usually spawn like clockwork a couple days after the full moon around 6pm for a few nights from May through September.

This month, however, their spawning was quite poor. We only saw light spawning from several males and just 3 females on one night. Other groups on the island reported no spawning at all from their mushroom corals. This was very disappointing for us, as well as for our visiting colleagues.

Many factors could have resulted in the lack of spawning, but we cannot say for certain what caused this. We have been having an unusually cool and rainy summer here in Hawaii which may have contributed, but there is no way to know for sure. Other factors from more global impacts may play a role as well.

As spawning of corals may be coming less predictable, the need for live and frozen banks of coral genetic material grows more pressing. While mushroom coral here in Hawaii will have several more times this summer to attempt to spawn, many species around the world only spawn once per year. Last year, a trip we had scheduled to bank two endangered coral species in Belize was canceled because rising ocean temperatures caused the corals to spawn a month early resulting in our trip being scheduled a month too late. As corals become more threatened around the world, we can only expect to see more non-typical, or even non-existent spawning events.

As for our mushroom corals here, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for their July spawn.

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