• calcite crystals;
  • octocoral sclerites;
  • cnidarian mineralization


The gross morphology of soft coral surface sclerites has been studied for taxonomic purposes for over a century. In contrast, sclerites located deep in the core of colonies have not received attention. Some soft coral groups develop massive colonies, in these organisms tissue depth can limit light penetration and circulation of internal fluids affecting the physiology of coral tissues and their symbiotic algae; such conditions have the potential to create contrasting calcifying conditions. To test this idea, we analyzed the crystal structure of sclerites extracted from different colony regions in selected specimens of zooxanthellate and azooxanthellate soft corals with different colony morphologies, these were: Sarcophyton mililatensis, Sinularia capillosa, Sinularia flexibilis, Dendronephthya sp. and Ceeceenus levis. We found that the crystals that constitute polyp sclerites differ from those forming stalk sclerites. We also observed different crystals in sclerites located at various depths in the stalk including signs of sclerite breakdown in the stalk core region. These results indicate different modes of calcification within each colonial organism analyzed and illustrate the complexity of organisms usually regarded as repetitive morphological and functional units. Our study indicates that soft corals are ideal material to study natural gradients of calcification conditions. J. Morphol. 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.