Stylophora under stress: a review of research trends and impacts of stressors on a model coral species


  • Stylophora pistillata is model coral and is increasingly used in stress studies.
  • Though its range spans the Indo-Pacific, 61% of studies are from the northern Red Sea.
  • Most studies (76%) assess a single stressor, and field experiments are scarce.
  • Temperature is the most tested (51% of studies) and most detrimental stressor.
  • Some stressors (e.g., hypoxia) and responses (e.g., microbiome) are understudied.


Sometimes called the “lab rat” of coral research, Stylophora pistillata (Esper, 1797) has been extensively used in coral biology in studies ranging from reef ecology to coral metabolic processes, and has been used as a model for investigations into molecular and cellular biology. Previously thought to be a common species spanning a wide distribution through the Indo-Pacific region, “S. pistillata” is in fact four genetically distinct lineages (clades) with different evolutionary histories and geographical distributions. Here, we review the studies of stress responses of S. pistillata sensus lato (clades 1–4) and highlight research trends and knowledge gaps. We identify 126 studies on stress responses including effects of temperature, acidification, eutrophication, pollutants, and other local impacts. We find that most studies have focused on the effect of single stressors, especially increased temperature, and have neglected the combined effects of multiple stressors. Roughly 61% of studies on S. pistillata come from the northern Red Sea (clade 4), at the extreme limit of its current distribution; clades 2 and 3 are virtually unstudied. The overwhelming majority of studies were conducted in laboratory or mesocosm conditions, with field experiments constituting only 2% of studies. We also note that a variety of experimental designs and treatment conditions makes it difficult to draw general conclusions about the effects of particular stressors on S. pistillata. Given those knowledge gaps and limitations in the published research, we suggest a more standardized approach to compare responses across geographically disparate populations and more accurately anticipate responses to predicted future climate conditions.

Meziere Z., Rich W. A., Carvalho S., Benzoni F., Morán X. A. G. & Berumen M. L., 2021. Stylophora under stress: a review of research trends and impacts of stressors on a model coral species. Science of the Total Environment: 151639. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.151639. Article.

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