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article imageCoral eating worm plagues reefs

By Tim Sandle     Apr 15, 2014 in Environment
A coral-eating flatworm presents a major threat for coral reefs. The worm is also capable of camouflage, a technique it uses by consuming algae on the coral.
The parasitic worm is called Amakusaplana acroporae and it munches away at staghorn coral Acropora. The flatworm can cause significant damage to coral reefs. Until a recent study, the threat posed by the worm was not fully understood.
The worm is hard to spot due to effective camouflage. When eating the coral tissue it also takes up the symbiotic alga of the coral. Instead of digesting them completely, it keeps a certain number of them alive and distributes them in its guts so that it perfectly mimics the appearance of the coral. Although some corals can catch small fish and plankton, using stinging cells on their tentacles, like those in sea anemone and jellyfish, most corals obtain the majority of their energy and nutrients from algae that live within the coral's tissue.
The flatworm has only been scientifically described very recently and has been found in the wild only in one location on the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers are concerned that the worm might spread. There are no known natural predators of this parasite and only consequent quarantine can efficiently control its spread in land-based coral cultures.
The study was carried out by the University of Southampton. The research has been published in the appropriately titled journal Coral Reefs. The article is called “The corallivorous flatworm Amakusaplana acroporae: an invasive species threat to coral reefs?”
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