Cerebral corals, a slow-growing species of coral, often act as the foundations of reefs.
The brain-like organisms known as brain corals have no brain, but can grow six feet tall and live up to 900 years. Cerebral corals, found in the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, show what is known as meandroid tissue integration.
This means that polyps, which are the basic living unit of corals, are highly associated with each other. Their tissues are more closely connected than those of other corals and are not separated by skeletal structures. Many researchers think that the more integrated the tissue of a coral polyp, the more advanced the coral species is.
Tissue integration is advantageous because coral polyps can transfer molecules such as nutrients, hormones and oxygen, which facilitates communication between the coral colony and the brain. In some cases, however, this can lead to vulnerability, because if a single polyp becomes ill, the pathogen can spread rapidly to the rest of the colony.
Some species of cerebral corals suffer massive mortalities due to diseases such as black band disease, white plague and thermal whitening.