Colony size and depth affect wound repair in a branching coral
Coral colonies regularly suffer tissue damage from natural and anthropogenic sources. The resultant wounds can decrease colony fitness and act as sources of infection or algal overgrowth. By systematically breaking branches on 54 Pocillopora meandrina colonies and following in situ tissue regeneration (April–August 2017), variation in the wound recovery process was investigated within colonies, among colonies, and across four sites on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. Ninety-five percent of all wounds healed, with an average healing time of 42 days. Average healing time was not different between initial and subsequent wounds. The relative importance of intrinsic factors, extrinsic factors, and disturbance history for the wound repair process was examined. Previous colony stressors, i.e., percent live coral tissue and bleaching history, were not correlated with wound healing time. These results indicate that wound repair is a priority for P. meandrina. Colony size and depth were significantly correlated with wound healing time: larger colonies healed 14 days faster than smaller colonies, and deeper colonies healed 25 days slower than shallower colonies. These findings support the hypothesis that larger colonies have more energy available for tissue regeneration. The observation of longer healing times for deeper colonies is likely driven by extrinsic factors that vary with depth, including temperature, wave energy, and irradiance. Overall, we show that wound healing in P. meandrina is physiologically resilient to previous stressors, but is affected by both colony size and depth. Understanding drivers of variation in regenerative processes for corals is critical for predicting coral population recovery after disturbances.
J. Jones supported this project with boat and dive safety guidance. Fieldwork was conducted by C. Counsell, E. Johnston, T. Sale, D. Ford, and C. Schlieman. Both C. Counsell’s and E. Johnston’s participation in this study was supported by National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (Grant No. 2012103208 and 2015184863, respectively). Additional funding was provided by the Castle Foundation (Grant No. 3846, M Hixon PI). This is HIMB contribution No. 1771 and SOEST contribution No. 10810. We thank the three anonymous reviewers and the associate editor whose comments improved this manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the sampling, care, and use of animals were followed and all necessary approvals were obtained. Sampling was completed under the HIMB Special Activity Permit 2018-3.
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