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Keywords:

  • Coral reefs;
  • corals;
  • reproduction;
  • spawning;
  • solar insolation

Abstract

Seasonal increases in sea surface temperature (SST) have long been considered the trigger for mass spawning events in reef corals. We critically examined the relationship between SST and the spawning activity of broadcasting corals in the tropical western Atlantic (Caribbean). This meta-analysis examined 12 species of broadcasting corals at 25 sites spanning 22 degrees of latitude (10°–32° N) from Venezuela to Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean from 1986 to 2004. Sigmoidal logit regression models were used to examine the relationship between the release of reef-coral gametes and the environmental variables SST and solar insolation defined as (1) the cumulative response 7–10 months prior to spawning (integral); (2) the rate of change at the time of spawning (derivative); and (3) the average for the month of spawning. The Quasi–Newton method was used to estimate the maximum likelihood of the response function. We demonstrate that the recent history and rate of change in temperature correlate poorly with the timing of spawning, while the average temperature during the month of spawning was significant (with all corals releasing gametes 28–30 °C, except Montastraea annularis, which released gametes at 27–30 °C). In contrast, the rate of change and the cumulative response of solar insolation cycles was a better predictor of gamete release, but solar insolation intensity at the time of spawning was not. These models have important implications for predicting coral reproductive cycles in all oceans, and for examining other marine phototrophic systems beyond corals.