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Article & Images by Richard Ross
s your tank stabilizes and matures, you should begin to leave a bunch of common problems in the dust. hair algae outbreaks, problematic hitchhikers, and various forms of coral tissue recession are based on water parameter fluctuations and should all become unpleasant memories, leaving space for a newer, happier problem: coral warfare!
real estate on a coral reef is at a premium, and our home tanks are no different. As a coral grows, it begins to battle in various ways to protect its current territory and also expand and colonize adjacent areas. the tenacity of coral to expand its territory actually helps drive the development of wild reefs. Generally, in captive reefs, this coral competition turns advanced hobbyists into aquatic bonsai artists, clipping a coral here or there, or strategically placing some reef rubble in the path on an encrusting onslaught. the arsenal of weapons that corals can employ to expand their territory is impressive and breaks down into four basic categories:
This Rhizotrochus has stung and killed the montipora colony below it.
Branching SPS and some plating corals (Echinophyllia, M. capricornis) can grow above and over other corals, effectively robbing them of the light they need to survive. Many species of coral can also encrust up and over neighbors, smothering them directly. Corals like Acanthastrea and hydnophora can extrude digestive organs to battle nearby corals. this attack kills the neighboring coral by digesting it, gaining an energy/nutrition bonus along with a new area to colonize. this type of coral warfare can be fast and devastating.
This cyphastrea has won the coral war by completely overgrowing some Balanophyllia.
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In this photo, you can clearly see the “DmZ” between a fast growing Acropora and a large Entacmaea anemone.
Here, a montipora is growing up, over and around the branches of a neighboring Seriatopora.
A montipora battling a millepora for dominance.
Species like Plerogyra, Euphyllia and Galaxea can produce extremely long tentacles loaded with nematocysts that can sting the life out of their neighbors. Sweeper tentacles aren’t the only worry, as feeding tentacles on LPS like Catalaphyllia, rhizotrochus, and Duncanopsammia can also sting nearby corals.
These various Turbinaria are scrolling for supremacy.
using chemicals to inhibit the growth of other species or other individuals of the same species is a time honored tradition. Corals like Sarcophyton, Sinularia and Xenia can release toxic compounds like sarcophine and terpenoids into the water to inhibit the growth of nearby corals. these compounds can be particularly problematic for neighboring SPS corals. there are various strategies for addressing coral warfare in a reef tank. first of all, identify each coral’s arsenal. If it has long sweeper tentacles, you will need to leave sufficient “buffer space” to protect its more delicate coral neighbors. If your coral is a “fast growing shader,” you probably don’t want to place light loving corals underneath it where they will eventually be shaded. If you have brought home a chemical warfare specialist, water changes and carbon might be very important in keeping toxic chemicals at “safe” levels. for more information, please see the reef Aquarium Vols 1, 2 and 3 by Charles Delbeek and Julian Sprung, ricordea Publishing.
In this mature tank, a forest of SPS compete for flow, light and space.
Don’t miss RHm sponsored Reef-A-Palooza October 23-24 in costa mesa, california! (www.reefapalooza.org)