Research

Scientific Review, Compilation, and Assessment of Coral Spawning Time in the Atlantic/Caribbean

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program & U.S. Coral Reef Task Force

Principal Investigator: Alison Moulding, Ph.D.
M.S. Graduate Student: Maureen Trnka

Issue

Orange egg clusters floating on the water surface after spawning of a Montastraea cavernosa colony in an aquariamScleractinian corals are primary framework builders of coral reefs. These corals provide habitats for numerous organisms, contribute to the structure and function of coral reefs, and help support the economic, social and cultural framework of coastal communities throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Many coral reefs throughout the western Atlantic have experienced large declines in the abundance and cover of reef building corals over the last three decades in response to various human and natural stressors.

The presence of suspended sediment and pollutants such as pesticides, herbicides, nutrients, heavy metals and petroleum products may prevent successful fertilization of coral gametes and reduce survival of planula larvae, thus affecting settlement and recruitment. Recovery of corals may be enhanced in areas where environmental conditions support sexual reproduction and recruitment. However, recovery may be delayed or prevented in areas affected by human activities such as coastal development projects, dredging, storm water runoff, land clearing, agriculture and shipping, especially for species that exhibit annual broadcast spawning and are characterized by low recruitment rates. By implementing measures to minimize human activities that introduce sediment and pollutants into coral reef environments during the annual spawning events, it may be possible to enhance fertilization success and recruitment.

Project and Findings

A review of existing scientific data regarding Atlantic and Caribbean coral reproduction and recruitment of scleractinian corals was collected. This data was compiled in a user friendly and searchable table that includes information on each coral species in regards to mode of reproduction, cited literature sources of applicable research, locations of where research was performed, spawning times, method of observation, environmental factors affecting spawning and duration of larvae in the water column.

An estimate range of sensitivities or a "sensitivity window" for the reproduction and recruitment of each coral species can be determined. This is done by using the information provided in the table as well as the lunar calendar for upcoming years to make extended predictions.

121 articles were reviewed, annotated, and entered into EndNote, a searchable bibliographic program. In EndNote, each article is listed with the following information: Author, Year, Title, Journal, Volume, Pages, Location, Type of work, and Keywords. Applicable information from each article was also entered into table format in Excel. Eleven families and 64 taxa of corals are included in the table. Thirty-three of the 64 taxa are without any applicable coral spawning research.

Family Taxa Sex Reproduction Mode Article Source
11 included 64 included Gonochoric (male/female), Hermaphroditic, or Mixed Broadcast or Brooding Author(s) & Year
Location of Work Time of Spawning Method of Observation Environmental Factors Linked to Spawning Duration in Water Column
Atlantic/ Caribbean Lunar time, time of day, etc. Field, Laboratory or Histological Temperature, Tides, Seasonality, etc. Time period before settlement
Two coral recruits
Two coral recruits
Downloadable Documents
Implications for Management

This project was performed to provide information to managers throughout the Caribbean to help reduce human impacts during the critical coral spawning and larval development window. Modification of the type or timing of activities that introduce nutrients, pollutants, and suspended particles may lead to enhanced fertilization and coral recruitment success. For many of the main reef-building species, information on coral spawning times is known and can be predicted. However, in most locations this information has not been widely available or previously considered during planning and implementation of human activities. Compilation of this information by species and by region will give managers the information they need to help protect corals during a sensitive phase of their life history.

Partners

NCRI via NOAA-CSCOR

This project directly supports the Coral Spawning Resolution passed by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. For more information about the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, visit www.coralreef.gov.