The reproductive biology and early life ecology of a common Caribbean brain coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis (Scleractinia: Faviinae)
Despite the fact that most of the severe demographic bottlenecks in coral populations occur during their earliest life stages, information on the reproductive biology and early life history traits of many coral species is limited and often inferred from adult traits only. This study reports on several atypical aspects of the reproductive biology and early life ecology of the grooved brain coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis (Linnaeus, 1758), a conspicuous reef-building species on Caribbean reefs. The timing of gamete release of D. labyrinthiformis was monitored in Curaçao over eight consecutive months, and embryogenesis, planulae behavior, and settlement rates were observed and quantified. We further studied growth and symbiont acquisition in juvenile D. labyrinthiformis for 3.5 yr and compared settler survival under ambient and nutrient-enriched conditions in situ. Notably, D. labyrinthiformis reproduced during daylight hours in six consecutive monthly spawning events between May and September 2013, with a peak in June. This is the largest number of reproductive events per year ever observed in a broadcast-spawning Caribbean coral species. In settlement experiments, D. labyrinthiformis planulae swam to the bottom of culture containers 13 h after spawning and rapidly settled when provided with settlement cues (42% within 14 h). After 5 months, the survival and growth rates of settled juveniles were 3.7 and 1.9 times higher, respectively, for settlers that acquired zooxanthellae within 1 month after settlement, compared to those that acquired symbionts later on. Nutrient enrichment increased settler survival fourfold, but only for settlers that had acquired symbionts within 1 month after settlement. With at least six reproductive events per year, a short planktonic larval phase, high settlement rates, and a positive response to nutrient enrichment, the broadcast-spawning species D. labyrinthiformisdisplays a range of reproductive and early life-history traits that are more often associated with brooding coral species, illustrating that classical divisions of coral species by reproductive mode alone do not always reflect the true biology and ecology of their earliest life stages.