, Volume 90, Issue 3, pp 379-394

Synchronous spawnings of 105 scleractinian coral species on the Great Barrier Reef

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Abstract

Following observations of mass spawning of hermatypic corals on the Great Barrier Reef in 1981 and 1982, spawning dates were successfully predicted and documented at five reefs on the Central and Northern Great Barrier Reef in 1983. During the predicted times, 105 species from 36 genera and 11 families were observed to spawn. Of these, 15 species were shown to have an annual gametogenic cycle. All but two of the species observed during mass spawnings shed gametes which underwent external fertilization and development. Synchronous spawning was observed both within and between the five reefs studied, which were separated by as much as 5° of latitude (500 km) or almost a quarter of the length of the Great Barrier Reef. The mass spawning of corals took place on only a few nights of the year, between the full and lastquarter moon in late spring. Maturation of gametes coincided with rapidly rising spring sea temperatures. Lunar and diel cycles may provide cues for the synchronization of gamete release in these species. The hour and night on which the greatest number of species and individuals spawned coincided with low-amplitude tides. Multispecific synchronous spawning, or “mass spawning”, of scleractinian and some alcyonacean corals represents a phenomenon which is, so far, unique in both marine and terrestrial communities.

Communicated by G. F. Humphrey, Sydney