Soft Corals - chemical defence


The soft coral Dendronephthya with the nudibranch Dermatobranchus. Fly Point, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia. December 1986. PHOTO: Bill Rudman.

Most cnidarians (anemones, hydroids, corals) rely on stinging cells (nematocysts) for their defence. Soft Corals however have developed an armoury of chemicals which they use to deter potential predators, from attacking their large fleshy, plant-like bodies. There are certain nudibranchs (Dermatobranchus - Fam. Arminidae; Phyllodesmium - Fam. Glaucidae) which feed on soft corals, and apparently reuse the softcoral's defensive chemicals for their own defence. See also page on Dendronephthya feeders. Here are a few references to defensive chemicals and secondary metabolites in Soft Corals. If anyone is aware of any more recent references, especially review articles, I would like to add them to this list.

• Avila, C. (1995) Natural Products of Opisthobranch molluscs: a Biological Review. Oceanography and Marine Biology, Annual Review, 33: 487-559.
• Coll, J.C. Bowden, B.F., Tapiolas, D.M., Willis, R.H., Djura, P., Streamer, M., Trott, L. (1985) Studies of Australian soft corals - XXXV. The terpenoid chemistry of soft corals and its implications. Tetrahedron, 41(6): 1085-1092.• Coll, J.C., Tapiolas, D.M., Bowden, B.F., Marsh, H. (1983) Transformation of soft coral (Coelenterata: Octocorallia) terpenes by Ovula ovum (Mollusca: Prosobranchia). Marine Biology, 74: 35-40.• Coll, J.C., Bowden, B.F., Koenig, M., Braslau, R., Price, I.R. (1986) Studies of Australian soft corals. XXXX. The natural products chemistry of alcyonacean soft corals with special reference to the genus Lobophytum. Bulletin Societes Chimiques Belges, 95(9-10): 815-834.
• La Barre, S.C., Coll, J.C., Sammarco, P.W. (1986) Defensive strategies of soft corals (Coelenterata: Octocorallia) of the Great Barrier Reef. II. The relationship between toxicity and feeding deterrence. Biological Bulletin, 171: 565-576.
• Sammarco,P W., Coll, J.C. (1988) The chemical ecology of alcyonarian corals. Coelenterata: Octocorallia. Bioorganic Marine Chemistry, 2: 87-116.
• Coll, J.C., La Barre, S., Sammarco, P.W., Williams, W.T., Bakus, G.T. (1982) Chemical defenses in soft corals (Coelenterata: Octocorallia) of the Great Barrier Reef: A study of comparative toxicities. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 8: 271-278.

Authorship details
Rudman, W.B., 2000 (August 13) Soft Corals - chemical defence. [In] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

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