Population ecology - Original research

Oecologia

, Volume 173, Issue 2, pp 431-438

First online:

Effects of delayed settlement on post-settlement growth and survival of scleractinian coral larvae

  • Erin M. GrahamAffiliated withSchool of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University Email author 
  • , Andrew H. BairdAffiliated withARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
  • , Bette L. WillisAffiliated withSchool of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook UniversityARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
  • , Sean R. ConnollyAffiliated withSchool of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook UniversityARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

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Abstract

Demographic connectivity requires both the dispersal of individuals between sub-populations, and their subsequent contribution to population dynamics. For planktonic, non-feeding marine larvae, the capacity to delay settlement enables greater dispersal distances, but the energetic cost of delayed settlement has been shown to adversely impact post-settlement fitness in several taxa. Here, we assess whether delayed settlement influences mortality rates or growth rates for the first 6 weeks following settlement of the scleractinian coral, Acropora tenuis. Coral larvae that were settled at 2, 4, and 6 weeks after spawning, and then deployed in the field, showed negligible effects of delayed settlement on post-settlement survival and time to initial budding for colony formation. Between-cohort differences in budding rate appeared to be explained by temporal variation in the post-settlement acquisition of zooxanthellae. The potential for coral larvae to remain in the pelagic zone for increased periods of time with little to no effect on post-settlement survival and growth suggests that the capacity for delayed settlement is likely to have meaningful demographic consequences for broadcast-spawning reef-building corals, and that the predicted trade-off between delayed settlement and post-settlement fitness is less applicable to reef-building scleractinian corals than other taxa with non-feeding larvae.

Keywords

Coral reefs Dispersal Connectivity Population dynamics Post-settlement processes