The growth of scleractinian corals is strongly influenced by the effect of water motion. Corals are known to have a high level of phenotypic variation and exhibit a diverse range of growth forms, which often contain a high level of geometric complexity. Due to their complex shape, simulation models represent an important option to complement experimental studies of growth and flow. In this work, we analyzed the impact of flow on coral's morphology by an accretive growth model coupled with advection-diffusion equations. We performed simulations under no-flow and uni-directional flow setup with the Reynolds number constant. The relevant importance of diffusion to advection was investigated by varying the diffusion coefficient, rather than the flow speed in Péclet number. The flow and transport equations were coupled and solved using COMSOL Multiphysics. We then compared the simulated morphologies with a series of Computed Tomography (CT) scans of scleractinian corals Pocillopora verrucosa exposed to various flow conditions in the in situ controlled flume setup. As a result, we found a similar trend associated with the increasing Péclet for both simulated forms and in situ corals; that is uni-directional current tends to facilitate asymmetrical growth response resulting in colonies with branches predominantly developed in the upstream direction. A closer look at the morphological traits yielded an interesting property about colony symmetry and plasticity induced by uni-directional flow. Both simulated and in situ corals exhibit a tendency where the degree of symmetry decreases and compactification increases in conjunction with the augmented Péclet thus indicates the significant importance of hydrodynamics.
A long-standing question in marine biology and coral biology is the morphological plasticity of corals, sponges and other marine sessile organisms and the influence of water movement. Usually branching species tend to develop symmetrical colonies where branches are being formed in all directions. There is a long standing discussion if this process in which colonies develop symmetrical colonies is controlled by genes or by the environment. In this work, we address this question for the scleractinian coral Pocillopora verrucosa. We first have acquired coral colonies from a controlled in-situ flow experiment where the coral was growing under uni-directional flow conditions. The corals colonies were scanned using a Computed Tomography (CT) technique used for medical imaging and industrial imaging. We have developed a simulation for the growth and form of corals and the influence of water movement. We have compared the simulated morphologies to the three dimensional images obtained with the CT scanner. We have found that coral's branches predominantly develop in the upstream part of the colony and an asymmetrical colony is being formed under uni-directional flow conditions. Our results confirm that growth of the coral is strongly influenced by the flow conditions.