MarLIN

information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Coral weed (Corallina officinalis)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.

Summary

Description

Corallina officinalis consists of calcareous, branching, segmented fronds, usually erect, up to 12 cm high but often much shorter. Fronds rise from a calcareous crustose, disk shaped, holdfast about 70 mm in diameter. Fronds consist of a jointed chain of calcareous segments, each becoming wedge shaped higher up the frond. Branches are opposite, resulting in a feather-like appearance. Colour varied, purple, red, pink or yellowish with white knuckles and white extremities. Paler in brightly lit sites. Different colours normally represent light induced stress and degradation of pigments (bleaching). Reproductive organs are urn shaped, usually borne at the tips of the fronds but occasionally laterally on segments. Distinguished from the similar Corallina elongata by the structure of its reproductive bodies which bear horns or antennae and from Jania rubens which branches dichotomously.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Generally distributed around all shores of the British Isles.

Global distribution

Recorded widely in the north Atlantic, from northern Norway to Morocco, from Greenland to Argentina. Also reported in Japan, China and Australasia.

Habitat

Typically forms a turf in pools and wet gullies from the mid tidal level to the sublittoral fringe. A characteristic algae of rock pools on the middle to lower shore. Occurs as scattered clumps in the sublittoral down to 18 m although it has been recorded down to 29 m in continental Europe. It often flourishes in exposed conditions. Occasionally found on mollusc shells or macroalgae such as Furcellaria.

Depth range

0 - 18m

Identifying features

  • Erect stiff, articulated fronds, coarse to the touch.
  • Purple, reddish, pink or yellowish in colour.
  • Branching opposite (pinnate).
  • Disc shaped holdfast.
  • Reproductive organs urn shaped.

Additional information

Also known as 'Cunach Tra' or 'An Fheamainn Choirealach' in Ireland. Growth form can be variable, for example:

  • stunted specimens occur in high shore pools
  • much branched forms in the lower littoral
  • thick elongate forms in sublittoral

In Norway fronds 1-2 cm long recorded in lower littoral in contrast to 10-17 cm long fronds in pools. This variability has resulted in numerous species descriptions that are probably synonymous with Corallina officinalis (Irvine & Chamberlain 1994).

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

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Biology review

Taxonomy

PhylumRhodophyta
ClassFlorideophyceae
OrderCorallinales
FamilyCorallinaceae
GenusCorallina
AuthorityLinnaeus, 1758
Recent SynonymsCorallina officinalis Linnaeus, 1758

Biology

Typical abundanceModerate density
Male size range
Male size at maturity
Female size rangeMedium(11-20 cm)
Female size at maturity
Growth formArticulate
Growth rate2.2mm/month
Body flexibility
Mobility
Characteristic feeding methodAutotroph
Diet/food source
Typically feeds onNot relevant
Sociability
Environmental positionEpifloral
DependencyIndependent.
SupportsNone
Is the species harmful?No

Biology information

The biology of articulate corallines was reviewed by Johanssen (1974). In culture Corallina officinalis fronds exhibited an average growth rate of 2.2 mm/month at 12 and 18 deg C. Growth rate was only 0.2 mm/month at 6 deg C and no growth was observed at 25 deg C (Colhart & Johanssen 1973). The crustose holdfast or base is perennial and grows apically, similar to encrusting corallines such as Lithothamnia sp.. The basal crust may grow continuously until stimulated to produce fronds (Littler & Kauker 1984; Colhart & Johanssen 1973). Growth rates may be comparable to encrusting corallines, for example, 2 -7mm per year was reported for Lithophyllum incrustans (Littler 1972). Fronds are highly sensitive to desiccation and do not recover from an 15 percent water loss, which might occur within 40 -45 minutes during a spring tide in summer (Wiedemann 1994). Littler & Kauker (1984) suggest that the crustose bases were adapted to resist grazing and desiccation whereas the fronds were adapted for higher primary productivity and reproduction. Corallina officinalis may support epiphytes, including Mesophyllum lichenoides, Titanoderma pustulatum, and Titanoderma corallinae, the latter causing tissue damage (Irvine & Chamberlain 1994). Corallina officinalis may be overgrown by epiphytes, especially during summer. This overgrowth regularly leads to high mortality of fronds due to light reduction (Wiedemann pers comm.). Other, crustose corallines produce anti-epiphytal substances, like e.g. allelopathics (Suzuki et al. 1998), however, this type of substance has not been found yet in Corallina officinalis.

Habitat preferences

Physiographic preferencesOpen coast, Strait / sound, Sea loch / Sea lough, Ria / Voe, Estuary, Enclosed coast / Embayment
Biological zone preferencesLower eulittoral, Mid eulittoral, Sublittoral fringe, Upper infralittoral
Substratum / habitat preferencesArtificial (man-made), Bedrock, Crevices / fissures, Large to very large boulders, Rockpools
Tidal strength preferencesModerately Strong 1 to 3 knots (0.5-1.5 m/sec.), Very Weak (negligible), Weak < 1 knot (<0.5 m/sec.)
Wave exposure preferencesExposed, Moderately exposed, Sheltered, Very exposed
Salinity preferencesFull (30-40 psu), Variable (18-40 psu)
Depth range0 - 18m
Other preferencesNo text entered
Migration PatternNon-migratory / resident

Habitat Information

In exposed conditions it may grow as a cushion like or compact turf (Irvine & Chamberlain 1994; Dommasnes 1968). Corallina officinalis growing under macroalgal canopies may be abraded and fronds shortened by macroalgal lamina moved by tidal action. Recorded from Scandinavia, Iceland, northern Norway, Baltic Sea, Helgoland, Faroes, Netherlands, northern France, Spain, Portugal, the Azores, Morocco, Madeira, and the Canary Islands in the north east Atlantic. Reported from Spain, Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy, Scilly, Adriatic, Greece, Turkey, Levant States, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria in the Mediterranean. It is also recorded from west coast of South Africa., Japan, China, Australia (Queensland) and New Zealand. Also recorded from Greenland and Arctic Canada to the USA, Caribbean Venezuela, Columbia and Argentina.

Life history

Adult characteristics

Reproductive typeIsogamous
Reproductive frequency Annual episodic
Fecundity (number of eggs)No information
Generation timeInsufficient information
Age at maturityInsufficient information
SeasonInsufficient information
Life spanInsufficient information

Larval characteristics

Larval/propagule type-
Larval/juvenile development Not relevant
Duration of larval stage2-10 days
Larval dispersal potential No information
Larval settlement period

Life history information

The typical life cycle of members of the Florideophycidae is summarised as follows:
  • Male haploid gametophytes release male gametes (spermatia) from spermatangia on male fronds.
  • Female haploid gametophytes produce the female gamete, the carpogonium on female fronds
  • After fusion (fertilization) the carposporophyte develops, enclosed in a cystocarp and releases diploid carpospores.
  • Carpospores develop into the tetrasporophyte, a diploid sporophyte stage.
  • The sporophyte develops tetrasporangia in which haploid tetraspores are formed by meiosis.
  • The tetraspores develop into gametophytes.
The gametophyte and sporophyte stages in the order Corallinaceae are isomorphic (Bold & Wynne 1978). In the Corallinaceae the reproductive organs are sunken into cavities called conceptacles. Male conceptacles are beaked. Gametophytes bear densely crowded conceptacles and are usually smaller and more irregular in shape than tetrasporangial plants. Reproductive bodies and spores are described in detail by Irvine & Chamberlain (1994). Tetrasporangia may be seen throughout the year but gametangial conceptacles are rare in the British Isles (Irvine & Chamberlain 1994). In Denmark fronds were reported to cease growing in summer, sloughed in autumn, and new fronds initiated from crustose, perenniating bases in late winter (Rosenvinge 1917 cited in Johanssen 1974). Released tetraspores settle within 48hrs, and develop into 4 celled stage (each cell capable of forming a sporophyte if others are destroyed), which calcifies quickly, and grows 3.6 micrometers per day at 17 -20 deg C, sporeling formed within 48hrs, a crustose base within 72hrs, fronds being initiated after 3 weeks and the first intergeniculum (segment) formed within 13 weeks (Jones & Moorjani 1973). Corallina officinalis shows optimal settlement on finely rough artificial substrata (0.5 - 1mm surface particle diameter). Although spores will settle and develop as crustose bases on smooth surfaces, fronds were only initiated on rough surfaces. Corallina officinalis settled on artificial substrata within one week in the field in summer months in New England (Harlin & Lindbergh 1977). However, in the laboratory fronds can grow from bases attached to smooth surfaces (Wiedeman pers comm.).

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Physical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
High High Moderate Low
Removal of the substratum would remove both the fronds and crustose bases on this species. Recovery would be dependent on settlement of carpospores or tetraspores. Corallina officinalis settled on artificial substances within 1 week of their placement in the intertidal in New England summer suggesting that recruitment is high (Harlin & Lindbergh 1977). New fronds of Corallina officinalis appeared on sterilised plots within six months and 10 percent cover was reached with 12 months (Littler & Kauker 1984).
Intermediate Very high Low Moderate
Corallina spp. accumulate more sediment than any other alga (Hicks 1985). Significant sediment cover of the middle to lower intertidal in a South Californian shore, resulting from fresh water runoff, caused substantial decline in Corallina spp. cover (Seapy & Littler 1982). However, die back of barnacles and Pelvetia spp. due to smothering allowed Corallina spp. to expand up the shore in the following 6 months (Seapy & Littler 1982). Although the fronds may be intolerant, rapid recovery will result from the resistant crustose bases.
Intermediate Very high Low Moderate
Coralline algae, especially the crustose forms are thought to be resistant of sediment scour (Littler & Kauker 1984). Corallina spp. accumulate more sediment than any other alga (Hicks 1985). Significant sediment cover of the middle to lower intertidal in a South Californian shore, resulting from fresh water runoff, caused substantial decline in Corallina spp. cover (Seapy & Littler 1982). However, die back of barnacles and Pelvetia spp. due to smothering allowed Corallina spp. to expand up the shore in the following 6 months (Seapy & Littler 1982). Although the fronds may be intolerant rapid recovery will result from the resistant crustose bases.
No information
High High Moderate Moderate
Finely branched fronds or cushion-like turfs may hold water, reducing desiccation stress. Padilla (1984) noted that finely branched Corallina vancouveriensis held more water than coarsely branched or crustose corallines and survived on emergent substrata around tidepools. This effect is less marked in Corallina officinalis (Wiedemann pers. comm.). Corallina officinalis inhabits damp or wet gullies and rock pools and does not inhabit the upper shore, suggesting that it is intolerant of desiccation. Fronds are highly intolerant of desiccation and do not recover from a 15 percent water loss, which might occur within 40 -45 minutes during a spring tide in summer (Wiedemann 1994). An abrupt increase in temperature of 10 deg C caused by the hot, dry 'Santa Ana' winds (between January and February) in Santa Cruz, California resulted in die back of several species of algae exposed at low tide (Seapy & Littler, 1984). Although fronds of Corallina spp. dramatically declined, summer regrowth resulted in dense cover by the following October, suggesting that the crustose bases survived. Severe damage was noted in Corallina officinalis as a result of desiccation during unusually hot and sunny weather in summer 1983 (an increase of between 4.8 and 8.5 deg C) (Hawkins & Hartnoll 1985). Hawkins & Hartnoll (1985) found that Corallina officinalis and encrusting corallines often die when their protective canopy of other algal species is removed. Therefore, this species is likely to be highly intolerant of increased desiccation, equivalent to being raised one level on the shore.
Corallina officinalis settled on artificial substances within 1 week of their placement in the intertidal in New England summer suggesting that recruitment is high (Harlin & Lindbergh 1977). New fronds of Corallina officinalis appeared on sterilised plots within six months and 10 percent cover was reached with 12 months (Littler & Kauker 1984). In experimental plots, up to 15 percent cover of Corallina officinalis fronds returned within 3 months after removal of fronds and all other epiflora/fauna (Littler & Kauker 1984). Littler & Kauker (1984) suggested that the crustose base was more resistant of desiccation or heating than fronds. Although new bases may recruit and develop quickly the formation of new fronds from these bases and recovery of original cover may take longer, however, the population is likely to recover within 5 years.
Intermediate Very high Low Low
Bleached corallines were observed 15 months after the 1964 Alaska earthquake which elevated areas in Prince William Sound by 10 m. Similarly, increased exposure caused by upward movement of 15 cm due to nuclear tests at Armchitka Island, Alaska adversely affected Corallina pilulifera (Johansen, 1974). The upper shore extent of this species is determined by the availability of rock pools and wet gullies. Therefore, an increase in emergence and concomitant increase in desiccation is likely to reduce the extent or abundance of the population.
No information
Low Very high Very Low Very low
Corallina officinalis occurs from very weak to moderately strong water flow. An increase in flow rate outside these limits may result in removal of fronds and competition from other species.
No information
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Lüning (1990) reports that Corallina officinalis from Helgoland survives between 0 deg C and 28 deg C when exposed for 1 week. New Zealand specimens were found to tolerate -4 deg C (Frazier et al. 1988, cited in Lüning 1990). An abrupt increase in temperature of 10 deg C caused by the hot, dry 'Santa Ana' winds (between January -and February) in Santa Cruz, California resulted in die back of several species of algae exposed at low tide (Seapy & Littler, 1984). Although fronds of Corallina spp. dramatically declined, summer regrowth resulted in dense cover by the following October, suggesting that the crustose bases survived. Severe damage was noted in Corallina officinalis as a result of desiccation during unusually hot and sunny weather in summer 1983 (an increase of between 4.8 and 8.5 deg C) (Hawkins & Hartnoll 1985). Hawkins & Hartnoll (1985) found that Corallina officinalis and encrusting corallines often die when their protective canopy of other algal species is removed. In exerimental plots, up to 15 percent cover of Corallina officinalis fronds returned within 3 months after removal of fronds and all other epiflora/fauna (Littler & Kauker, 1984). Littler & Kauker (1984) suggested that the crustose base was more resistant of desiccation or heating than fronds. It is likely that Corallina officinalis is intolerant of abrupt short term temperature increase although it may not be affected by long term chronic change and the crustose bases are probably less intolerant than fronds.
No information
Low Immediate Not sensitive Low
Corallina officinalis is an understory, shade tolerant algae. It is unlikely to be affected by a reduced light attenuation except at the deepest extent of its distribution in subtidal populations. However, reduced light will probably reduce growth rates.
No information
Low Very high Very Low Moderate
Corallina officinalis thrives in exposed conditions where it may replace fucoids, although it is also found in sheltered conditions. In exposed conditions it may grow as a cushion like or compact turf (Irvine & Chamberlain 1994; Dommasnes 1968).
No information
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Not relevant
Macrophytes have no known sound or vibration receptors
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Not relevant
Macrophytes have no known visual receptors
Low High Low High
Moderate (50 steps per 0.09 sq. metres) or more trampling on intertidal articulated coralline algal turf in New Zealand reduced turf height by up to 50%, and weight of sand trapped within turf to about one third of controls. This resulted in declines in densities of the meiofaunal community within two days of trampling. Although the community returned to normal levels within 3 months of trampling events, it was suggested that the turf would take longer to recover its previous cover (Brown & Taylor 1999). Similarly, Schiel & Taylor (1999) noted that trampling had a direct detrimental effect on coralline turf species on the New Zealand rocky shore. At one site coralline bases were seen to peel from the rocks (Schiel & Taylor 1999), however, this was probably due to increased desiccation caused by loss of the algal canopy. The crustose base has nearly twice the mechanical resistance (measured by penetration) of fronds (Littler & Kauker, 1984). Abrasion due to anchoring and mooring may be comparable. Therefore, intolerance has been assessed as low and recoverability high.
Low High Low Moderate
Fronds once removed form bases may re-attach to suitable substratum and build a new base and grow at a higher rate that the parent plant (Rosevinge 1917, Wiedemann pers. ob..). New fronds can grow from bases and appreciable cover return in 3 - 12 months (Seapy & Littler 1982; Littler & Kauker 1984). Crustose bases are unlikely to be removed from the rock surface, without removing the substratum (see substratum loss).

Chemical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Oil and detergent dispersants affected high water specimens of Corallina officinalis more than low shore specimens and some specimens were protected in deep pools. In areas of heavy spraying, however, Corallina officinalis was killed, and was affected down to 6m in one site, presumably due to wave action and mixing (Smith 1968). However, regrowth of fronds had begun within 2 months after spraying ceased (Smith 1968). Cole et al. 1999 suggest that macrophytes are generally sensitive to herbicides and Corallina officinalis is probably no exception, although no evidence to this effect was found.
Heavy metal contamination
No information No information No information Not relevant
Corallines are about 74 percent calcified and uptake bicarbonate from seawater readily. As they age the frond accumulate increasing levels of magnesium. However, no information on heavy metal contamination or its effects was found.
Hydrocarbon contamination
Low Very high Very Low Moderate
Oil and detergent dispersants affected high water specimens of Corallina officinalis more than low shore specimens and some specimens were protected in deep pools. In areas of heavy spraying, however, Corallina officinalis was killed, and was affect down to 6m in one site, presumably due to wave action and mixing (Smith 1968). However, regrowth of fronds had begun within 2 months after spraying ceased (Smith 1968). Crump et al. (1999) noted a dramatic bleaching on encrusting corallines and signs of bleaching in Corallina officinalis, Chondrus crispus and Mastocarpus stellatus at West Angle Bay, Pembrokeshire after the Sea Empress oil spill. However, encrusting corallines recovered quickly and Corallina officinalis was not killed. It seems likely, therefore, that Corallina officinalis was more intolerant of dispersants used during the Torry Canyon oil spill than the oil itself.
Radionuclide contamination
No information No information No information Not relevant
Insufficient
information
Changes in nutrient levels
Low Very high Very Low High
Corallines seem to be tolerant and successful in polluted waters. Kindig & Littler (1980) demonstrated that Corallina officinalis var. chilensis in South California showed equivalent or enhanced health indices, highest productivity and lowest mortalites (amongst the species examined) when exposed to primary or secondary sewage effluent. Little difference in productivity was noted in chlorinated secondary effluent or pine oil disinfectant. However, specimens from unpolluted areas were less tolerant, suggesting physiological adaptation to sewage pollution (Kindig & Littler 1980).
Intermediate High Low Low
Corallina officinalis inhabits rock pools and gullies from mid to low water. Therefore, it is likely to be exposed to short term hyposaline (freshwater runoff and rainfall) and hypersaline (evaporation) events. However, its distribution in the Baltic is restricted to increasingly deep water as the surface salinity decreases, suggesting that it requires full salinity in the long term (Kinne 1971). Kinne (1971) cites maximal growth rates for Corallina officinalis between 33 and 38 psu in Texan lagoons. A change in salinity equivalent to one level on the MNCR scale for a year is likely to reduce the extent of the population.
No information
No information No information No information Not relevant
It is thought that algae are not sensitive to deoxygenation since they can produce their own oxygen. However, they may be intolerant in darkness when they can only respire. Corallines may be more tolerant than most algae due to their low rates of respiration (see Littler & Kauker 1984 for values).

Biological pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
Low Very high Very Low Very low
Several coralline and non-coralline species are epiphytic on Corallina officinalis. Irvine & Chamberlain (1994) cite tissue destruction caused by Titanoderma corallinae. However, no information on pathogenic organisms in the UK was found.
Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
No non-native species are known to compete with Corallina officinalis.
Intermediate High Low Low
This species was used in Europe as a vermifuge although it no longer seems to be collected for this purpose (Guiry & Blunden 1991). Corallina officinalis is collected for medical purposes; the fronds are dried and converted to hydroxyapatite and used as bone forming material (Ewers et al. 1987). It is also sold as a powder for use in the cosmetic industry. An European research proposal for cultivation of Corallina officinalis is pending (Wiedemann pers. comm.).
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Removal of canopy species, such as Laminarians (kelps) and fucoids results in increased desiccation (see above). Hawkins & Hartnoll (1985) found that Corallina officinalis and encrusting corallines often die when their protective canopy of other algal species is removed. However, in the subtidal, red algae such as Corallina officinalis may benefit from additional light afforded by removal of kelp species. Therefore, targeted extraction of other species may reduce the extent or abundance of this species.

Additional information

Importance review

Policy/legislation

- no data -

Status

Non-native

Importance information

This species was used in Europe as a vermifuge although it no longer seems to be collected for this purpose (Guiry & Blunden 1991). Corallina officinalis is collected for medical purposes; the fronds are dried and converted to hydroxyapatite and used as bone forming material (Ewers et al. 1987). It is also sold as a powder for use in the cosmetic industry. An European research proposal for cultivation of Corallina officinalis is pending (Thomas Wiedemann pers. comm.). Corallina officinalis turf provides substratum for various epiphytes, and supports a diverse, species rich invertebrate community due to its provision of interstices and build up of sediment within its fronds. This community includes harpaticoid copepods, amphipods, ostracods and isopods and the serpulid Spirorbis corallinae, which is rarely found on other algae (Crisp & Mwaiseje 1989; Bamber & Irving, 1993; Dommasnes, 1968; Hull, 1997; Grahame & Hanna 1989). Corallina officinalis is likely to be grazed by sea urchins, especially when no other food such as kelps are available; e.g. Tetrapygus niger grazes crustose red algae in Chile (Wiedemann pers. comm.) and fronds of Corallina officinalis were grazed by Strongylocentrotus purpuratus in field experiments (Littler & Kauker 1984). Padilla (1984) noted that fronds of Corallina vancouveriensis could be swallowed whole by the chiton Katharina tunicata.

Bibliography

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  3. Colhart, B.J., & Johanssen, H.W., 1973. Growth rates of Corallina officinalis (Rhodophyta) at different temperatures. Marine Biology, 18, 46-49.

  4. Crisp, D.J. & Mwaiseje, B., 1989. Diversity in intertidal communities with special reference to the Corallina officinalis community. Scientia Marina, 53, 365-372.

  5. Crump, R.G., Morley, H.S., & Williams, A.D., 1999. West Angle Bay, a case study. Littoral monitoring of permanent quadrats before and after the Sea Empress oil spill. Field Studies, 9, 497-511.

  6. Dickinson, C.I., 1963. British seaweeds. London & Frome: Butler & Tanner Ltd.

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  35. Suzuki, Y., Takabayashi, T., Kawaguchi, T. & Matsunaga, K., 1998. Isolation of an allelopathic substance from the crustose coralline algae, Lithophyllum spp. and its effect on the brown alga Laminaria religiosa Miyabe (Phaeophyta). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 225, 69-77.

  36. Wiedemann, T., 1994. Oekologische Untersuchungen in Gezeitentuempeln des Helgolaender Nord-Ost Felswatts. , Diploma thesis, University of Kiel, Germany.

Citation

This review can be cited as:

Tyler-Walters, H., 2008. Corallina officinalis Coral weed. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/1364

Last Updated: 22/05/2008