Experimental investigation into the effects of suspended sediment on fertilisation, larval survival and settlement in a scleractinian coral
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Laboratory and field experiments were used to determine whether high (≃100 mg l−1), low (≃50 mg l−1) and control (≃0 mg l−1) levels of suspended sediment affected fertilisation, larval survival, and larval settlement in the scleractinian coral Acropora digitifera (Dana, 1846). Both high- and low-sediment treatments significantly decreased fertilisation, but post-fertilisation embryonic development was not inhibited by suspended sediments. Larval survival and larval settlement were significantly reduced in high- and low-sediment treatments. No difference was found between high- and low-sediment treatments in any of the three post-spawning processes investigated, suggesting that they are susceptible to sediment concentrations which are not exceptionally high even under natural conditions (>50 mg l−1). The introduction of an additional stress in the form of high levels of suspended sediments coupled with naturally high variability in recruitment may have a considerable effect on the successful supply and settlement of coral larvae to a reef. Given that many coral communities are open reproductive systems, the consequences of disturbance events are not likely to be restricted to the impact area. Recruitment to a population may be reduced significantly in the presence of high levels of suspended sediments because of effects on larval survival and settlement. Recruitment of larvae to adjacent populations may also be affected due to a decreased fertilisation success and potential increases in mortality of larvae passing through the affected site.
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