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Are Corals Colorful?



Using in situ spectrometry data and visual system modeling, we investigate whether the colors conferred to the reef-building corals by GFP-like proteins would look colorful not only to humans, but also to fish occupying different ecological niches on the reef. Some GFP-like proteins, most notably fluorescent greens and nonfluorescent chromoproteins, indeed generate intense color signals. An unexpected finding was that fluorescent proteins might also make corals appear less colorful to fish, counterbalancing the effect of absorption by the photo-synthetic pigments of the endosymbiotic algae, which might be a form of protection against herbivores. We conclude that GFP-determined coloration of corals may be an important factor in visual ecology of the reef fishes.