, Volume 88, Issue 3, pp 217-233

Reproduction, recruitment and fragmentation in nine sympatric species of the coral genus Acropora

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Abstract

Multispecies assemblages of the coral genus Acropora occur commonly throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Nine species from such an assemblage comprising 41 species of Acropora, at Big Broadhurst Reef on the Great Barrier Reef, were studied during 1981–1983. Similarities and differences in reproductive modes and timing, oocyte dimensions and fecundity, recruitment by larvae and by fragments, and mortality were recorded. All species had an annual gametogenic cycle, were simultaneous hermaphrodites, and had the same arrangement of gonads in polyps. In six species, most colonies released gametes on the same night of the year, in early summer, during a mass spawning event involving many coral genera. A seventh species had colonies spawning at this as well as other times of the year. Another species spawned in late summer, and gametes were not observed to mature in the last species. Eggs were very large (601 to 728 μm geometric mean diameter) and fecundity of polyps low, compared with other corals; no reduction in oocyte numbers occurred during oogenesis. Reef-flat species had slightly bigger and fewer eggs than reef-slope species. All species recruited by larvae, but four also multiplied by fragmentation, either year-round or during occasional rough weather. Yearround fragmenters had few larval recruits; non-fragmenters had many, and a rough-weather fragmenter had an intermediate number of larval recruits. It was concluded that larval recruitment largely determined species composition, and that reduced larval recruitment was responsible for sparse distribution of fragmenting species. Subsequent mortality in some species and increase by fragmentation in others probably determined relative abundances.

Communicated by N. D. Holland, La Jolla