Coral Reefs

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 529–539 | Cite as

Survival dynamics of scleractinian coral larvae and implications for dispersal

  • E. M. GrahamEmail author
  • A. H. Baird
  • S. R. Connolly


Survival of pelagic marine larvae is an important determinant of dispersal potential. Despite this, few estimates of larval survival are available. For scleractinian corals, few studies of larval survival are long enough to provide accurate estimates of longevity. Moreover, changes in mortality rates during larval life, expected on theoretical grounds, have implications for the degree of connectivity among reefs and have not been quantified for any coral species. This study quantified the survival of larvae from five broadcast-spawning scleractinian corals (Acropora latistella, Favia pallida, Pectinia paeonia, Goniastrea aspera, and Montastraea magnistellata) to estimate larval longevity, and to test for changes in mortality rates as larvae age. Maximum lifespans ranged from 195 to 244 d. These longevities substantially exceed those documented previously for coral larvae that lack zooxanthellae, and they exceed predictions based on metabolic rates prevailing early in larval life. In addition, larval mortality rates exhibited strong patterns of variation throughout the larval stage. Three periods were identified in four species: high initial rates of mortality; followed by a low, approximately constant rate of mortality; and finally, progressively increasing mortality after approximately 100 d. The lifetimes observed in this study suggest that the potential for long-distance dispersal may be substantially greater than previously thought. Indeed, detection of increasing mortality rates late in life suggests that energy reserves do not reach critically low levels until approximately 100 d after spawning. Conversely, increased mortality rates early in life decrease the likelihood that larvae transported away from their natal reef will survive to reach nearby reefs, and thus decrease connectivity at regional scales. These results show how variation in larval survivorship with age may help to explain the seeming paradox of high genetic structure at metapopulation scales, coupled with the maintenance of extensive geographic ranges observed in many coral species.


Coral reef Dispersal Larvae Larval mortality Survival analysis 



We thank V. Cumbo, L. Anderson, G. Coombes, K. Ferguson, M. Hisano, M. Hoogenboom, A. Negri, C. Palmer, T. Stevens, and Orpheus Island Research Station for their assistance. Comments from B. Willis, R. de Nys, S. Robson, and M. Kosnik improved the manuscript. This study was funded by an Australian Research Council CoE grant to SRC and AHB.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Tropical and Marine BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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