Collective Pulsing in Xeniid Corals: Part I—Using Computer Vision and Information Theory to Search for Coordination

Julia E. Samson, Dylan D. Ray, Maurizio Porfiri, Laura A. Miller, Simon Garnier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Xeniid corals (Cnidaria: Alcyonacea), a family of soft corals, include species displaying a characteristic pulsing behavior. This behavior has been shown to increase oxygen diffusion away from the coral tissue, resulting in higher photosynthetic rates from mutualistic symbionts. Maintaining such a pulsing behavior comes at a high energetic cost, and it has been proposed that coordinating the pulse of individual polyps within a colony might enhance the efficiency of fluid transport. In this paper, we test whether patterns of collective pulsing emerge in coral colonies and investigate possible interactions between polyps within a colony. We video recorded different colonies of Heteroxenia sp. in a laboratory environment. Our methodology is based on the systematic integration of a computer vision algorithm (ISOMAP) and an information-theoretic approach (transfer entropy), offering a vantage point to assess coordination in collective pulsing. Perhaps surprisingly, we did not detect any form of collective pulsing behavior in the colonies. Using artificial data sets, however, we do demonstrate that our methodology is capable of detecting even weak information transfer. The lack of a coordination is consistent with previous work on many cnidarians where coordination between actively pulsing polyps and medusa has not been observed. In our companion paper, we show that there is no fluid dynamic benefit of coordinated pulsing, supporting this result. The lack of coordination coupled with no obvious fluid dynamic benefit to grouping suggests that there may be non-fluid mechanical advantages to forming colonies, such as predator avoidance and defense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number90
JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Collective behavior
  • Coral
  • Pulsing
  • Transfer entropy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Immunology
  • General Mathematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • Pharmacology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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