, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 215-222

Environmental influences on skeletal banding in eastern Pacific (Panama) corals

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Abstract

The timing of skeletal band formation and concomitant changes in calcification rates and linear skeletal extension were investigated in Pavona corals growing under two distinct thermal regimes along the Pacific coast of Panama: fluctuating, marked by seasonal upwelling (Gulf of Panama) and stable, nonupwelling (Gulf of Chiriqui). The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that banding in corals is largely mediated by seasonal variations in temperature (Highsmith 1979). Our results indicate that the timing of band formation is synchronous at these two environmentally distinct locations. The low density (LD) portion of the annual band is accreted over a five month period (January–June) and represents an increase in linear skeletal extension (mm/mo.) as well as a marked increase in calcification rate (g CaCO3 · cm-2 · mo-1) relative to the high density portion which forms over the remaining seven month period (July through December). In contrast to the predictions of the Highsmith model these findings indicate that variations in light levels rather than fluctuation in temperature is a better correlate to changes in skeletal density. Qualitatively, banding patterns were similar at the two sites; however, higher growth rates (particularly with respect to the LD band) for Pavona clavus in the Gulf of Panama indicate that lower water temperatures and higher productivity, or both, may be responsible for quantitative differences in banding between sites. We found that formation of the HD band corresponds to lower light levels and the production of gametes. We propose that banding in corals is a complex phenomenon governed by endogenous processes (e.g. reallocation of energy from growth to reproduction) which may be mediated by exogenous factors (e.g light and productivity).