Most colonial corals vary intraspecifically in growth forms, and the diversity in branching morphology is especially striking. While the effects of environmental factors on growth forms have been studied, the genetic control of coral branching patterns has received little attention. The discovery of ontogenetic changes in the capacity to originate branching would set the stage for studies of how branch formation is genetically controlled. During experiments investigating contact reactions in the coral Pocillopora damicornis, we observed that young colonies derived from settled planulae and colonies regenerated from adult branch tips assumed different growth forms. Young colonies formed at least one branch from the central region of the colony, while colonies regenerated from adult branch tips (3–5 mm long) did not form branches during the 9-month observation period. This pattern was invariable, regardless of the types and outcomes of the contact experiments or the orientation of the branch tips. However, some fragments taken from 1- or 2-year-old colonies formed branches. This suggests that the rate of branch formation in P. damicornis colonies decreases with age. These findings will facilitate investigations of the mechanism of coral branch formation at the molecular level.
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