, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 43-53

Reproductive ecology of Caribbean reef corals

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Abstract

The last decade has seen a resurgence of interest in the processes of sexual reproduction by scleractinian reef corals. Earlier investigations had focused fortuitously on brooding (planulating) species, which resulted in the general misconception that brooding was the main form of larval development of reef corals. More recent work on Indo-Pacific species has shown broadcast spawning and short annual reproductive periods to predominate. This report presents the reproductive patterns of eleven Caribbean coral species and attempts to explain the adaptive features and selective pressures that have led to the evolution of the four reproductive patterns described to date: (a) hermaphroditic broadcasters; (b) gonochoric broadcasters; (c) hermaphroditic broadcasters; (b) gonochoric brooders. Both (a) and (b) correlate with large colony size and short annual spawning periods; and (c) and (d) correlate with small colony size, multiple planulating cycles per year, and occupation of unstable habitats. Selection for outcrossing between long-lived individuals is proposed as the reason for gonochorism and for synchronous spawning of hermaphroditic broadcasters, and also for the large amount of sperm produced by hermaphroditic brooders. Selection for high rates of local recruitment is proposed as the force behind the evolution of brooding by species inhabiting unstable habitats and suffering high rates of adult mortality.