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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 724:67-79 (2023)  -  DOI:

Small-scale habitat selection by larvae of a reef-building coral

Kelly E. Speare1,*, Alain Duran2, Margaret W. Miller3,5, Holly V. Moeller1,4, Deron E. Burkepile1,4

1Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
2Department of Biology, Florida International University, MSB 350, 3000 NE 151st Street, North Miami, FL 33181, USA
3Southeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, 75 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami, FL 33149, USA
4Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
5Present address: SECORE International, 2103 Coral Way 2nd Floor, Miami, FL 33145, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: When animals select habitats, they integrate positive and negative cues in the environment that shape their choices about where to live. We conducted a settlement experiment with the larvae of Orbicella faveolata, a reef-building scleractinian coral on Caribbean reefs. We investigated the settlement decisions of O. faveolata larvae in relation to communities of benthic spaceholders and explicitly investigated how benthic communities influence how larvae may make settlement decisions at small spatial scales. Settlement tiles that attracted at least one O. faveolata settler had a significantly different community composition than tiles with no settlers. Red filamentous algae and crustose coralline algae were abundant on tiles with no settlers, while bare substrate was abundant on tiles with settlers. When we analyzed the spatial patterns of coral settlement within tiles, coral settlers avoided areas with sediment, sponges, and red filamentous algae and preferred areas with green filamentous algae. Selection among individual taxa was dominated by selecting against rather than for taxa. Our results show that coral larvae make complex decisions about where to settle even down to the millimeter scale. Importantly, these coral larvae select their habitat by balancing contrasting forces to avoid risks.

KEY WORDS: Coral reefs · Orbicella faveolata · Coral settlement · Turf algae · Bare space

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Cite this article as: Speare KE, Duran A, Miller MW, Moeller HV, Burkepile DE (2023) Small-scale habitat selection by larvae of a reef-building coral. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 724:67-79.

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