Environmental factors limiting fertilisation and larval success in corals
Events in the early life history of reef-building corals, including fertilisation and larval survival, are susceptible to changes in the chemical and physical properties of sea water. Quantifying how changes in water quality affect these events is therefore important for understanding and predicting population establishment in novel and changing environments. A review of the literature identified that levels of salinity, temperature, pH, suspended sediment, nutrients and heavy metals affect coral early life-history stages to various degrees. In this study, we combined published experimental data to determine the relative importance of sea water properties for coral fertilisation success and larval survivorship. Of the water properties manipulated in experiments, fertilisation success was most sensitive to suspended sediment, copper, salinity, phosphate and ammonium. Larval survivorship was sensitive to copper, lead and salinity. A combined model was developed that estimated the joint probability of both fertilisation and larval survivorship in sea water with different chemical and physical properties. We demonstrated the combined model using water samples from Sydney and Lizard Island in Australia to estimate the likelihood of larvae surviving through both stages of development to settlement competency. Our combined model could be used to recommend targets for water quality in coastal waterways as well as to predict the potential for species to expand their geographical ranges in response to climate change.