, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 161-169

Mass spawning of corals on a high latitude coral reef

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Abstract

Evidence is presented that at least 60% of the 184 species of scleractinian corals found on reefs surrounding the Houtman Abrolhos Islands (Western Australia) participate in a late summer mass spawning. These populations are thus reproductively active, despite most species being at the extreme southern limit of their latitudinal range (28° 29°S). In the present study, coral mass spawning occurred in the same month on both temperate (Houtman-Abrolhos) and tropical (Ningaloo) reefs of Western Australia, despite more than two months difference in the timing of seasonal temperture minima between the two regions. This concurrence in the month of spawning suggests that temperature does not operate as a simple direct proximate cue for seasonal spawning synchrony in these populations. Seasonal variation in photoperiod may provide a similar and more reliable signal in the two regions, and thus might be more likely to synchronize the seasonal reproductive rhythms of these corals. Also there is overlap in the nights of mass spawning on the Houtman Abrolhos and tropical reefs of Western Australia, despite significant differences in tidal phase and amplitude between the two regions. This indicates that tidal cycle does not synchronize with the night(s) of spawning on these reefs. Spawning is more likely to be synchronised by lunar cycles. The co-occurrence of the mass spawning with spring tides in Houtman Abrolhos coral populations may be evidence of a genetic legacy inherited from northern, tropical ancestors. Micro-tidal regimes in the Houtman Abrolhos region may have exerted insufficient selective pressure to counteract this legacy.