Variations in population demography and reproductive behaviors may significantly shape Caribbean coral communities.
Current work aims to determine how variations in reproductive patterns, larval settlement and larval survival among shallow versus mesophotic coral species affect genetic connectivity and community structure.
Using two scleractinian corals (Montastraea cavernosa and Orbicella franksii) common on both shallow and mesophotic reefs, this study aims to determine if larvae from deep reef corals settle and survive in the shallow reefs and if variation in reproductive patterns lead to connectivity or reproductive isolation. A variety of metrics are being monitored to document community ecology and reproductive behavior in deep and shallow coral communities.
These include coral species abundance/diversity, fecundity, energy allocation, reproductive timing, fertilization success, larval fitness, and recruitment, coupled with molecular examinations of symbiont specificity and host connectivity. Not only will this information increase our understanding of mesophotic coral ecosystems and speciation events in marine systems, but will determine the resilience of coral populations across their depth distributions and the potential for mesophotic reef species to aid in shallow reef recovery.