This group dominates minireef aquariums and includes the majority of invertebrate species sold for aquariums.
Corals and Their Relatives
Besides the stony corals, various anthozoans adapt with great success to a properly designed and maintained minireef. The groups include:
• False corals (order Corallimorpharia), also known as corallimorphs or mushroom corals
• Sea mats (order Zoantharia), also known as zoanthids or colonial polyps
• Leather corals (order Alcyonacea), including mushroom leather corals and a variety of common names (do not confuse with "mushroom polyps" above)
• Pulse corals (order Alcyonacea), alternatively called waving hand corals, these soft corals often exhibit rhythmic movements
• Organ pipe corals (order Alcyonacea), atypical soft corals with a calcified skeleton; Tubipora musica is the only aquarium species
• Gorgonians (order Gorgonacea), also called sea fans and sea whips
Within these broad categories, adaptability to captivity can range from easy to impossible. It is therefore important to understand the differences among them.
First, not all members of these groups are photosynthetic. These are discussed below. Despite the presence of zooxanthellae, many species of anthozoans require planktonic food. Some do so well in captivity they become aggressive, overgrowing neighboring specimens. These, in general, can be kept inbound by pruning, and the pieces can be used to start new colonies or give away.
The stony corals (order Scleractinia) may be subdivided into two groups. Though they are artificial, the groupings are useful in managing their aquarium care.
• Small-polyp stony corals (SPS corals) include many branching types. Species identification cannot usually be achieved without resort to expert advice and microscopic examination. As a rule, SPS corals need good water movement and bright illumination. Attention must be paid to water quality, as insufficient amounts of calcium or too much phosphate spells trouble. Many varieties are capable of rapid growth, and all can probably be successfully produced by captive propagation. Corals compete for space on the reef. They possess the ability to detect encroachment by competitors and to act aggressively to ward off attack. Placing too many specimens of different kinds into the same aquarium can lead to chemical combat, and the demise of some. Resist the temptation to include too many, and your minireef will be more successful.
• Large-polyp stony corals (LPS corals) are often found on the sandy bottom of a lagoon, rather than out on the reef itself. As a rule, they are more tolerant and require more food than their SPS relatives. Many species within this group are imported and make fine aquarium subjects. As with SPS corals, LPS corals can attack nearby potential competitors, resulting in damage or death. Limit the number of species to minimize this problem.
Until they became commonly available from hatcheries, giant clams were rare in the aquarium trade and expensive. They grow to truly enormous size, and display spectacular coloration. The mantle, exposed through the gaping shell, bears zooxanthellae. Previously thought to subsist entirely from photosynthesis, giant clams in fact need regular feeding to thrive. Phytoplankton products have made it possible for aquarists to obtain amazing results with giant clams. Spawning sometimes occurs in home aquariums, for example. All varieties, which will be discussed separately in the design portion of the book, need bright to very bright light and may therefore not be appropriate for all aquariums.
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