Mussismilia braziliensis
(Mussismilia braziliensis)
Mussismilia braziliensis is an important zooxanthellate, reef-building coral that is only found in the Abrolhos Bank, Brazil. This colonial species belongs to a monophyletic clade and molecular analysis has found it to be closely related to the Caribbean Faviidae family. Mussismilia braziliensis grows into large domes that are blue-grey, green and yellow in colour. This species is hermaphrodite and reproduces annually by broadcast spawning which is prompted by temperature or photoperiod cues. The Abrolhos regions is a National Marine Park and designated Ramsar site but threats include coral disease, over-fishing, aquaculture, nearby oil extraction, sedimentation, pollution, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Additional assistance is needed in the enforcement of conservation measures.
Atlantic Ocean

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Scleractinia
Family: Mussidae
The most recent molecular analysis of Mussismilia braziliensis has found it to be more closely related to members of the Caribbean Faviidae family than the Mussidae family in which it was originally placed . Mussismilia is a monophyletic clade.

Corallites up to 10mm in diameter
Colonies of Mussismilia braziliensis are massive in form and size and usually form large domes. The corallites, which are between 8 and 10 metres in diameter, have an irregular shape and are arranged close together. Mussismilia braziliensis is blue-grey, green and yellow in colour.
Mussismilia braziliensis is considered to be an important reef-building species on the Abrolhos reef complex. Brazilian reefs consist of just 15 reef-building coral species, 5 of which are endemic, including Mussismilia braziliensis. These reef-building species provide the structural habitat for many other vertebrate and invertebrate species and are subsequently very important to the continued existence of the reef.

The study of Mussismilia braziliensis has revealed that it is a hermaphroditic broadcast spawning species. Polyps contain both male and female sex cells and the reproductive cycle lasts approximately 11 months, with the eggs developing throughout this time and sperm development taking just 3 months. Once development is complete, the polyps in a colony will spawn synchronously and it is possible that there is spawning synchrony between different colonies. Spawning does not seem to synchronise with other species of other coral and this may be an attempt to reduce gamete waste and reduce the competition for suitable settlement surfaces. Spawning occurs between March and mid-May and may follow sea surface temperature or photo-period cues. Fertilisation occurs externally after the eggs and sperm have been released into the water and the larvae develop into planulae, which are carried in the water current until they settle on to suitable substrate.

As a zooxanthellate coral Mussismilia braziliensis will obtain some of its energy requirements from a symbiotic relationship with single celled algae called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae live in the tissue of the coral and use photosynthesis to produce the energy that the coral requires. Additional nutrition is also obtained by tentacles that contain stinging cells called nematocysts which catch plankton passing by the colony in the water current.
Mussismilia braziliensis is found in shallow or subtidal reef environments.

Mussismilia braziliensis is endemic to Brazil and is found along the coast of Bahia state, including the Abrolhos Bank which is famous for its biodiversity.

Population Estimate
There is no species-specific population estimate for Mussismilia braziliensis.
Population Trend
The population trend of Mussismilia braziliensis is unknown.
Data Deficient (DD) 2010.4 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
The remoteness of the Abrolhos Bank provides some protection from the threat of human pressures such as pollution, sedimentation, oil extraction and over-fishing.  However, Mussismilia braziliensis is particularly affected by coral diseases such as a white plague like disease (WPL). WPL is characterised by a band of white exposed skeleton, but the causes of the disease affecting Mussismilia braziliensis are not yet fully understood. The incidence of infection has been shown to increase at higher than normal sea temperatures so there is concern that as global temperatures continue to rise there will also be a rise in the frequency of coral disease.

Coral bleaching is another threat to Mussismilia braziliensis that is attributed to rising sea temperatures. In response to the stress that is caused by higher than normal sea temperatures, corals may expel the symbiotic zooxanthellae that live in their tissue. Sedimentation and salinity extremes have also been shown to cause stress that leads to bleaching. Bleaching occurred in Brazil between 2003 and 2005 but it is not known to what extent Mussismilia braziliensis is affected.

Sedimentation is a threat to coral reefs that is being exacerbated by human activities. The development of coastal areas and the removal of mangroves and seagrass beds, which act as natural sediment stabilisers, is resulting in increasing amounts of sediment being washed onto the reef. The sediment lowers light intensity in the water and can smother coral in layer of sediment that is energetically expensive and stressful to remove. In addition to the increasing amounts of sediment experienced during coastal development, pollution becomes an increasing threat to coral reefs. Pollution reduces water quality and may also contain the bacteria causing coral disease.

The extraction of oil and natural gas in places near to the Abrolhos reef is a threat to Mussismilia braziliensis because the extraction process causes physical disturbance of the sea bed and there is risk of oil spillages.

Over-fishing and destructive fishing techniques such as dredging are an additional threat to coral species in Brazil. Over-fishing causes a decline in the number of herbivorous fish that prevent algae “phase shifts” where algae become the dominant species on a reef instead of coral. The aquaculture industry is also a threat to coral reefs as coastal habitats such as mangroves are disturbed in the creation of shrimp farms.

Ocean acidification, the changing pH of ocean water caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is global threat to reef building corals such as Mussismilia braziliensis. The uptake of carbon dioxide into sea water increases as atmospheric CO2 continues to rise and this alters the ratio of pH buffers in the water making the ocean less alkaline. This affects corals as it makes their calcium carbonate skeletons brittle and slows skeletal growth. It is predicted that if levels of CO2 in the atmosphere to continue to rise at the present rate then an irreversible decline in coral reefs could be in progress by 2040.
Conservation Underway
Mussismilia braziliensis is protected by CITES Appendix II which regulates the international trade of threatened species.

There are no species specific conservation measures in place for Mussismilia braziliensis but there Marine Protected Areas and conservation measures in action in Brazil where this species is found. Mussismilia braziliensis may benefit from these initiatives and details of these initiatives are given below.

The Abrolhos Bank area was designated as a National Marine Park in 1983 and declared an Area of Extreme Biological Importance in 2002 by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment. In 2010 the importance of this region was further recognised when the Abrolhos region was designated as a Ramsar site, listing it as a wetland of international importance.

Conservation measures in this region include no-take areas where fishing has been made illegal, collection of scientific data and outreach activities that include local fisherman and communities. Monitoring in the region has shown that the abundance of fish has increased since the initiation of no-take areas.  Because of this, more fishermen in the region are supporting the conservation measure. Conservation International provided support to the region through monitoring and scientific advice.
Conservation Proposed
Despite the designation of no-take areas it can be difficult to enforce the regulations and illegal fishing still occurs. The Abrolhos Marine Park has just one patrol boat to cover the 218,000 acre site, so further support is needed to ensure no-take areas are maintained.

Francini-Filho, R. et al. 2010. Seasonal prevalence of white plague like disease on the endemic Brazilian reef coral Mussismilia braziliensis. Lat. Am. J. Aquat. Res. 38(2):292-296

Fukami, H., Chen, C.A., Budd, A.F., Collins, A. Wallace, C. Et al. 2008. Mitochondrial and Nuclear Genes Suggest that Stony Corals are Monophyletic but Most Families of Stony Corals Are Not (Order Scleractinia, Class Anthozoa, Phylum Cnidaria). PLoS ONE 3(9):e3222. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003222

Nunes, F. et al. 2008. Re-evaluation of the systematic of the endemic corals of Brazil by molecular data. Coral Reefs. 27:423-432

Obura, D., Fenner, D., Hoeksema, B., Devantier, L. & Sheppard, C. 2008. Mussismilia braziliensis. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <>. Downloaded on 01 January 2011.

Pires, D.O. et al. 1999. Reef coral reproduction in the Abrolhos Reef Complex, Brazil: the endemic genus Mussismilia. Mar Biol 135:463-471

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2009). Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity. Montreal, Technical Series No. 46, 61 pages

Sutherland, K.P. et al. 2004. Disease and immunity in Caribbean and Indo-Pacific zooxanthellate corals. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 266:273-302

Veron J.E.N. 2000. Corals of the World. Volume 2. Townsville. Australian Institute of Marine Science

Veron, J.E.N. et al. 2009. The coral reef crises: The critical importance of <350 ppm CO2. Mar Pollut Bul 58:1428-1436

Wilkinson, C. 2008. Status of coral reefs of the world: 2008. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Center, Townsville, Australia.


Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Spatial Data Collection.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at

Forum comments

There are as yet no comments for this species.

Add a comment

You must log in to post. If you don't have a login, it's easy to register.