The effects of resource availability on the growth and distribution of a heterotrophic coral species, Madracis mirabilis, across Curaçao


Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse yet threatened ecosystems on the planet. Our understanding of what contributes to a coral reef’s resilience to adapt to global and local threats is not well established. Thriving reefs in close proximity to anthropogenic impacts indicate there are opportunities for improved understanding of the underlying factors that influence the ability of some coral species to withstand environmental stressors and changing oceanographic conditions. Research suggests that resource availability and a coral’s trophic strategy can improve a coral’s tolerance to environmental stressors. Such discoveries have already been made, but the effects of resource availability on heterotrophic coral species have been minimally explored in the Caribbean; a region that has suffered substantial declines in coral health and cover–. Regardless of these declines, Curaçao, an island in the Southern Caribbean, possesses uncharacteristic coral diversity and cover for the region. One of the most abundant species covering the Curaçao reef tract, Madracis mirabilis, is largely heterotrophic in its feeding strategy. The growth and distribution of this species was tracked across 7 sites spanning approximately 40 kilometers along natural and anthropogenic gradients of nutrients in Curaçao. Our findings suggest that the highest growth and percent cover of M, mirabilis, can be found in regions with the highest exposure to anthropogenic nutrient loading. These data provide insights into how some corals may be better adapted to changing environmental conditions and degradations in water quality

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