Do reef corals age?

Barbara Brown, John Bythell, Tom Kirkwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
108 Downloads (Pure)


Hydra is emerging as a model organism for studies of ageing in early metazoan animals, but reef corals offer an equally ancient evolutionary perspective as well as several advantages, not least being the hard exoskeleton which provides a rich fossil record as well as a record of growth and means of ageing of individual coral polyps. Reef corals are also widely regarded as potentially immortal at the level of the asexual lineage and are assumed not to undergo an intrinsic ageing process. However, putative molecular indicators of ageing have recently been detected in reef corals. While many of the large massive coral species attain considerable ages (>600 years) there are other much shorter‐lived species where older members of some populations show catastrophic mortality, compared to juveniles, under environmental stress. Other studies suggestive of ageing include those demonstrating decreased reproduction, increased susceptibility to oxidative stress and disease, reduced regeneration potential and declining growth rate in mature colonies. This review aims to promote interest and research in reef coral ageing, both as a useful model for the early evolution of ageing and as a factor in studies of ecological impacts on reef systems in light of the enhanced effects of environmental stress on ageing in other organisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1192-1202
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number2
Early online date28 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Coral
  • Senescene
  • Aging
  • Mortality
  • Immortality
  • Determinate growth
  • Indeterminate growth


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