Coral and Brittle Stars, Together Forever

Brittle star (red) entwines the branches of its lifelong coral partner (pink). Credit: L. Watling for NOAA/IE/URI

Brittle star (red) entwines the branches of its lifelong coral partner (pink). Credit: L. Watling for NOAA/IE/URI

I mean it, FOREVER!  No paper out yet but the abstract has sufficiently enticed me.  Mosher and Watling report that the species Phiocreas oedipus, an echinoderm that kills its father and marries it mother, is only found on the octocoral Metallagorgia melanotrichos. They find a positive correlation between size of the brittle star and the octocoral and suggest that juvenile brittles stars settles on the a young octocoral and “the two species then grow, mature, and senesce together”.  The octocoral mooches shelter and  a platform off the seafloor to suspsension feed on floating particles.  What does the coral get? Not damn thing.

Colony of Metallogorgia melanotrichos  on New England Seamount Chain. Image courtesy of the Mountains in the Sea Research Team; the IFE Crew; and NOAA.

Colony of Metallogorgia melanotrichos on New England Seamount Chain. Image courtesy of the Mountains in the Sea Research Team; the IFE Crew; and NOAA.

Dr. M (1748 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (http://www.scienceofthesouth.com/), connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.


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