Coral reproductive biology and spawning phenology

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Scleractinian corals are the ecosystem engineers of coral reefs, and synchronous spawning is an essential process for adaptation and recovery of coral populations. Most corals spawn synchronously during short seasonal periods and the timing of these events depends on environmental cues. Given the importance of sea temperature in reproductive phenology, climate change impacts could disrupt spawning synchrony, with long-term consequences for population viability.

A critical knowledge gap is whether and how disturbances in the Anthropocene are disrupting coral reproductive synchrony. To understand this requires unravelling the environmental drivers of reproductive phenology and spawning synchrony using a combination of large-scale data on natural spawning timing and ex situ manipulative experiments.

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Our understanding of how global-scale human impacts affect coral reproductive timing and synchrony has, until recently, been limited by:

 

A lack of large-scale datasets on coral reproductive phenology.

 

Technical challenges associated with experiments to manipulate seasonal environmental cycles.

Our work on coral spawning phenology utilises a recently compiled, large-database on coral spawning timing, including >6000 individual observations of the time or day of spawning for over 300 coral species

We are using this database to investigate spatial and temporal patterns of spawning synchrony and phenology