MEPS 493:179-184 (2013)  -  doi:10.3354/meps10499

The effects of temperature on embryonic development and larval survival in two scleractinian corals

Erika S. Woolsey1,*, Maria Byrne2, Andrew H. Baird1

1The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
2Schools of Medical and Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

ABSTRACT: Increased temperatures are deleterious to early life stages in many organisms; however, the biological effects of decreased temperatures are rarely explored. For example, the tolerance of marine invertebrate larvae to temperatures lower than ambient might affect the capacity of species to disperse from tropical to subtropical locations. In addition, reduced rates of development are likely to affect the proportion of larvae retained on natal reefs. Here, we explore the relationship between temperature, embryonic development and larval survival over an 8°C temperature range (-4 to +4°C around the ambient temperature at the time of spawning of 24°C) in 2 reef-building corals, Goniastrea favulus and Acropora spathulata from One Tree Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Rates of development were generally slower at lower temperatures: embryos of both species took longer to complete gastrulation and to become motile at temperatures below ambient. In contrast, temperatures below ambient did not affect larval survivorship in either species. A. spathulata larvae were more sensitive to increased temperatures than G. favulus, which also had higher survivorship than A. spathulata at all temperatures except 20°C. These results suggest that fluctuations in temperature at the time of spawning will influence patterns of coral larval dispersal. Furthermore, cold water is unlikely to prevent the dispersal of tropical corals to subtropical locations.


KEY WORDS: Coral reefs · Larval ecology · Thermal tolerance · Dispersal · Development · Cold tolerance


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Cite this article as: Woolsey ES, Byrne M, Baird AH (2013) The effects of temperature on embryonic development and larval survival in two scleractinian corals. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 493:179-184

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