CORALS growing in the seas around Scotland have developed an ingenious way of overcoming the conditions to grow into large-scale reefs, according to scientists.

Cold-water corals that struggle with poor light to increase in size like their tropical counterparts, where algae bind together dead coral skeletons to make continuous reef structures, are fusing with the same coral types without using algae to bond frameworks together.

Researchers at Heriot-Watt and Glasgow universities said their discovery showed cold-water corals have the potential to recognise "self" at a species level which is key to its survival and the success of thousands of species the reefs support.

The researchers said it was previously thought that large cold-water reefs were made by siblings joining together, but it is now revealed the bond is related to species recognition.

Prof Roberts, co-ordinator of Heriot-Watt's new Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology, said: "This discovery highlights not only how much we have to learn about deep-sea ecosystems but how important advanced technologies are in deep-sea exploration."

Dr Nick Kamenos of Glasgow University and co-author of the paper, said a combination of techniques was used to establish the findings.