, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 37–45 | Cite as

Consumption of coral propagules after mass spawning enhances larval quality of damselfish through maternal effects

Population Ecology


The synchronized spawning of corals in many parts of the Indo-Pacific represents a huge injection of biological material into the waters around reefs. Much of this material is consumed by fishes and filter-feeding invertebrates in the 5 or so days following spawning. The present study is the first to document the effect of the consumption of coral propagules on a population of facultatively planktivorous fish and the transference of physiological condition across generations. The study compares two populations of the damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis that fed to differing degrees on coral propagules for 5 days after the annual mass spawning of corals at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Wind blew coral slicks over the outer lagoon to the inner lagoon some 1.5 km away. While coral propagules were abundant in the water column in the windward location, they were scarce by the time the water mass reached the inner lagoon. Behavioral observations 2–5 days after coral spawning showed that a significantly higher proportion of P. amboinensis was feeding on coral propagules in the windward location than in the inner lagoon location. Windward location females consumed coral propagules almost exclusively and had fuller guts than females from the inner lagoonal location. Five days after the mass coral spawning, windward location females had a higher condition factor and a larger liver mass relative to body mass compared to females within the inner lagoon or females from both locations 2 months later. Fish eggs laid by the windward location females soon after coral spawning yielded larvae that had 25% larger yolk sacs and 100% larger oil globules than did larvae produced from the females from the inner lagoon location, or larvae produced at either location prior to or well after coral spawning in 2 previous years. Larger yolk sacs and oil globules have been shown to have direct survival benefits in the transition from endogenous to exogenous feeding. A feeding experiment conducted on patch reefs showed that diet supplementation of breeding females with a high lipid food for just 5 min per day was sufficient to significantly increase yolk-sac sizes of newly hatched larvae. Evidence suggests that females gain a fitness advantage from feeding on coral spawn and that this is passed on to their offspring.


Larval survival Food availability Body condition Yolk sac Oil globule 



I am indebted to B. Kerrigan for discussion and constructive comments on the manuscript. S. Smith and J. Larson enthusiastically assisted in the collection and processing of samples. J. Wolstenholme provided the dates for mass coral spawnings at Lizard Island prior to 2001. B. Green, M. Srinivasan, and T. Lemberget provided constructive comments on an earlier version. Useful comments were also made by two anonymous reviewers. This research was funded through the Australian Research Council (A00104279). Many thanks to the staff at the Lizard Island Research Station for their support and excellent field facilities.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Marine Biology and AquacultureJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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