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

Related messages

Secondary metabolites in soft corals

August 15, 2000
From: Valentina Edwin

Hi there,

I just so suddenly found this site which I needed for the information about secondary metabolites produced from soft corals anywhere around the world. Do you think you can give any information about this topic? I really need it as soon as possible.


Edwin, V., 2000 (Aug 15) Secondary metabolites in soft corals. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Dear Valentina,
I am not being nosy, but some background information about why you want to know, would make your request more interesting to other vistors to the Forum and would also help me in deciding how to answer your query.

Basically, there is a huge literature on secondary metabolites in Soft Corals, as they are one of the group of marine organisms targetted by pharmaceutical compnaies looking for the wonder drugs of the new millenium.

My interest is limited to any relationships that exist between soft corals and the nudibranchs that eat them. I have posted a few references which may be of interest to you on a Soft Corals - Defence page. Have a look there and at the other pages I have referred to on that page.

I hope this is of some use, and please let us know what your interest is. You may in fact be doing something of interest to Forum participants, or in which they can offer advice or help.

Best wishes,
Bill Rudman.

Rudman, W.B., 2000 (Aug 15). Comment on Secondary metabolites in soft corals by Valentina Edwin. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from