Deepwater broadcast spawning by Montastraea cavernosa, Montastraea franksi, and Diploria strigosa at the Flower Garden Banks, Gulf of Mexico
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Broadcast spawning by corals is a tightly synchronized process characterized by co-ordinated gamete release within 30–60 min time windows once per year. In shallow water corals, annual water temperature cycles set the month, lunar periodicity the day, and sunset time the hour of spawning. This tight temporal regulation is critical for achieving high fertilization rates in a pelagic environment. Given the differences in light and temperature that occur with depth and the importance of these parameters in regulating spawn timing, it has been unclear whether deeper coral can respond to the same environmental cues that regulate spawning behaviour in shallower coral. In this report, a remotely operated vehicle was used to monitor coral spawning activity at the Flower Garden Banks at depths from 33 to 45 m. Three species Montastraea cavernosa, Montastraea franksi, and Diploria strigosa were documented spawning within this depth range. All recorded spawning events were within the same temporal windows as shallower conspecifics. These data indicate that deep corals at this location either sense the same environmental parameters, despite local attenuation, or communicate with shallower colonies that can sense such spawning cues.
KeywordsBroadcast spawning Reproductive strategies Reef building Mass spawning
The ROV was kindly provided by the National Geographic Society/Sustainable Seas Expedition, and ship support by NOAA. ROV piloting was performed by Phil Otalora (Nuytco/DOER Inc.). I would like to thank Emma Hickerson, Phil Otalora, Sylvia Earle, SSE, National Geographic, NOAA and Gulf Diving for their assistance in the field and Emma Hickerson/NOAA for supplying video for analysis. Support equipment was sponsored by Ocean Management Systems and Austin Aquasports.
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