After spawning in late summer, new coral larvae begin the hunt for homes on the reefs, following subtle chemical cues to find a suitable site to attach and begin life affixed to the reef. Research by Smithsonian scientists has shown that the chemical tetrabromopyrrole (TBP), which is produced by bacteria which live on tough, pink-and-purple crusts known as crustose coralline algae (CCA), play a role in how some coral species' larvae settle down.
Several of these coral species are endangered or threatened in the wild, including pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) and elkhorn coral (Acropora cervicornis). Working with TBP and larvae of these corals, contributed by scientific partners from all around Florida, Smithsonian Marine Station scientists were able to experiment with getting new corals to settle down in the lab. If successful, the ability to reliably induce settlement in a controlled setting could greatly enhance coral reef conservation efforts.