Lunar banding in the scleractinian coral Montastraea faveolata: Fine-scale structure and influence of temperature



[1] Lunar cycles play an important role in controlling biological rhythms in many organisms, including hermatypic corals. Coral spawning is correlated with environmental factors, including surface seawater temperature (SST) and lunar phase. Calcium carbonate skeletons of corals possess minute structures that, when viewed via X-radiography, produce high-density (HD) annual banding patterns. Some corals possess dissepiments that serve as the microstructural base for upward corallite growth. Here we report the results of detailed structural analysis of the skeleton of Montastraea faveolata (Scleractinia) (Ellis and Solander, 1786) and quantify the number of dissepiments that occur between HD bands, including interannual and intercorallite variability. Using a 30 year database, spanning from 1961 to 1991, we confirm earlier speculation by several authors that the frequencies of these microbands within a year is tightly linked to the lunar cycle. We also demonstrate that the frequency distribution of the number of these dissepiments per year is skewed to lower numbers. Extensive statistical analyses of long-term daily SST records (University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez) revealed that precipitation of dissepiments is suppressed in years of cooler-than-average seawater temperature. We propose that dissepiment deposition is driven primarily by lunar cycle and seawater temperature, particularly at lower temperatures, and banding is generally unaffected by normal or high temperatures. These fine-scale banding patterns are also strongly correlated with the number of lunar months between reproductive spawning events in average or warmer-than-average seawater temperature years. This microbanding may represent another proxy for high-resolution estimates of variance in marine palaeo-temperatures, particularly during cooler SST years.