ABSTRACT Coral and oyster reefs have declined greatly due to anthropogenic stressors. Low recruitment rates from larvae hamper recovery of these important ecosystems. Although much is known about factors affecting larval settlement, a detailed understanding of their swimming and substrate selection behaviour is lacking. Here, we present an approach to study coral and oyster larval behaviour in unprecedented detail, using a high resolution camera, choice chambers and behavourial analysis software. From second-by-second spatial data, we extracted variables such as swimming pattern, swimming speed and distance travelled using larvae between 0.2 and 3 mm in length. We applied this to larvae of the Caribbean brooding coral Favia fragum and show they locate their major settlement cue, coralline algae, within 90 min when placed in a choice chamber. Oyster (Ostrea edulis) larvae exhibited reduced swimming speed with age, suggesting pre-settlement behaviour. With the presented real-time high resolution tracking approach we can address new questions related to the behaviour of coral, oyster and other marine larvae, with applications in ecology, aquaculture and coastal engineering. Most notable is future development of “flypaper” substrates with cues to promote larval settlement on reefs, to aid restoration efforts.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
The massive die-off of the herbivorous sea urchin Diadema antillarum in 1983 and 1984 resulted in phase shifts on Caribbean coral reefs, where macroalgae replaced coral as the most dominant benthic group. Since then, D. antillarum recovery has been slow to non-existent on most reefs. Studying settlement rates can provide insight into the mechanisms constraining the recovery of D. antillarum, while efficient settlement collectors can be used to identify locations with high settlement rates and to collect settlers for restoration practices. The aim of this study was to compare pre and post die-off settlement rates and to determine possible settlement peaks in the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Eustatius. Additionally, we aimed to determine the effectiveness and reproducibility of five different settlement collectors for D. antillarum. D. antillarum settlement around St. Eustatius was highest in May, June and August and low during the rest of the study. Before the die-off, settlement recorded for Curaçao was high throughout the year and was characterized by multiple settlement peaks. Even though peak settlement rates in this study were in the same order of magnitude as in Curaçao before the die-off, overall yearly settlement rates around St. Eustatius were still lower. As no juvenile or adult D. antillarum were observed on the reefs around the settlement collectors, it is likely that other factors are hindering the recovery of the island's D. antillarum populations. Of all five materials tested, bio ball collectors were the most effective and reproducible method to monitor D. antillarum settlement. Panels yielded the least numbers of settlers, which can partly be explained by their position close to the seabed. Settler collection was higher in mid-water layers compared to close to the bottom and maximized when strings of bio balls were used instead of clumps. We recommend research into the feasibility of aiding D. antillarum recovery by providing suitable settlement substrate during the peak of the settlement season and adequate shelter to increase post-settlement survival of settlers. The bio ball collectors could serve as a suitable settlement substrate for this new approach of assisted natural recovery.
Diet choice in marine species is typically derived from indirect methods such as stomach contents and stable isotope analysis, while choice experiments in controlled laboratory settings are used to infer foraging decisions in the wild. However, these methods are limited in their capacity to make inferences about foraging decisions by predators in variable environments or recreate the array of factors (such as prey traits, predator condition, and environmental conditions) present in natural systems which may interact to affect diet decisions by predators. Recent work has provided evidence for selectivity in the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) despite the predator's apparent opportunistic, generalist feeding behavior. We directly tested diet choice by presenting wild-caught lionfish with multi-species prey assemblages in field enclosures. We offered lionfish equal biomasses of prey species sharing similar prey traits that are both highly abundant on coral reefs and prevalent in the lionfish diet across the invaded range. We then applied compositional analyses to determine relative prey consumption given prey availability. We observed lionfish selectively foraging on prey and manifesting strong consistent preferences for one prey species. Additionally, we observed condition-dependent foraging behavior, as lionfish with higher body conditions were more likely to exhibit selective foraging behavior. Our findings provide direct evidence for diet choice in an invasive generalist species and highlight the importance of preserving the ecological complexity of natural ecosystems in choice experiments, particularly when investigating predator-prey interactions in complex environments.
Seagrasses, marine flowering plants, are widely distributed along temperate and tropical coastlines of the world. Seagrasses have key ecological roles in coastal ecosystems and can form extensive meadows supporting high biodiversity. The global species diversity of seagrasses is low (b60 species), but species can have ranges that extend for thousands of kilometers of coastline. Seagrass bioregions are defined here, based on species assemblages, species distributional ranges, and tropical and temperate influences. Six global bioregions are presented: four temperate and two tropical. The temperate bioregions include the Temperate North Atlantic, the Temperate North Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Temperate Southern Oceans. The Temperate North Atlantic has low seagrass diversity, the major species being Zostera marina, typically occurring in estuaries and lagoons. The Temperate North Pacific has high seagrass diversity with Zostera spp. in estuaries and lagoons as well as Phyllospadix spp. in the surf zone. The Mediterranean region has clear water with vast meadows of moderate diversity of both temperate and tropical seagrasses, dominated by deep-growing Posidonia oceanica. The Temperate Southern Oceans bioregion includes the temperate southern coastlines of Australia, Africa and South America. Extensive meadows of low-to-high diversity temperate seagrasses are found in this bioregion, dominated by various species of Posidonia and Zostera. The tropical bioregions are the Tropical Atlantic and the Tropical Indo-Pacific, both supporting mega-herbivore grazers, including sea turtles and sirenia. The Tropical Atlantic bioregion has clear water with a high diversity of seagrasses on reefs and shallow banks, dominated by Thalassia testudinum. The vast Tropical Indo-Pacific has the highest seagrass diversity in the world, with as many as 14 species growing together on reef flats although seagrasses also occur in very deep waters. The global distribution of seagrass genera is remarkably consistent north and south of the equator; the northern and southern hemispheres share ten seagrass genera and only have one unique genus each. Some genera are much more speciose than others, with the genus Halophila having the most seagrass species. There are roughly the same number of temperate and tropical seagrass genera as well as species. The most widely distributed seagrass is Ruppia maritima, which occurs in tropical and temperate zones in a wide variety of habitats. Seagrass bioregions at the scale of ocean basins are identified based on species distributions which are supported by genetic patterns of diversity. Seagrass bioregions provide a useful framework for interpreting ecological, physiological and genetic results collected in specific locations or from particular species. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
A 200-year time series of incubation temperatures and primary sex ratios for green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles nesting in St. Eustatius (North East Caribbean)was created by combining sand temperature measurementswith historical and current environmental data and climate projections. Rainfall and spring tides were important because they cooled the sand and lowered incubation temperatures. Mean annual sand temperatures are currently 31.0 °C (SD = 1.6) at the nesting beach but show seasonality, with lower temperatures (29.1–29.6 °C) during January–March and warmer temperatures (31.9–33.3 °C) in June–August. Results suggest that all three species have had female-biased hatchling production for the past decades with less than 15.5%, 36.0%, and 23.7% males produced every year for greens, hawksbills and leatherbacks respectively since the late nineteenth century. Global warming will exacerbate this female-skew. For example, projections indicate that only 2.4% of green turtle hatchlings will be males by 2030, 1.0% by 2060, and 0.4% by 2090. On the other hand, future changes to nesting phenology have the potential to mitigate the extent of feminisation. In the absence of such phenological changes, management strategies to artificially lower incubation temperatures by shading nests or relocating nest clutches to deeper depths may be the only way to prevent the localised extinction of these turtle populations.
Despite the increasing dominance of turf algae in coral reefs, few studies have investigated their physiological and ecological responses to changes in abiotic factors. We tested the effects of depth and ultraviolet radiation on turf algae at different levels of successional stages using two experiments. Depth-related differences were found for all turf algal communities, characterized by a higher amount of the cyanobacteria taxonDichothrix and the red filamentous genera Poly-/Herposiphonia in the shallow and the appearance of oscillating cyanobacteria in deeper waters. In the first experiment, cross-depth transplantation of 153 days old communities influenced percentage cover, biomass and taxa composition. Downward transplantation lowered overall biomass and abundance of the foraminifera Sorites, whereas the crustose green alga Pringsheimiellaand filamentous cyanobacteria colonized the communities. A nearly reverse pattern was observed in upward transplanted communities. Overall we distinguished between sensitive taxa, like Oscillatoria, and taxa able to acclimate to alterations in their environment, like Pringsheimiella, Poly/Herposiphonia and Dichothrix. In the second experiment, algae grown for 285 days at 5 m were exposed together with a set of sterile settlement tiles to three UVR regimes at 2 m for 22 days. UVR had no effect on turf algal communities regardless of successional stage. This study highlights the presence of high light and UV tolerant species. The high UV tolerance of turf communities may confer a competitive advantage over other more sensitive coral reef biota, such as corals. This study demonstrates that turf algae are dynamic communities exhibiting species-specific resistance to environmental changes.
Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) nesting in Barbados were outfitted with time-depth recorders (TDRs) with temperature sensors to investigate the form and patterns of diving behaviour during the inter-nesting interval (INI; average 14.7 days). All females, regardless of size, surfaced infrequently during dives of average 56 min duration, and the majority of dives (90%) were spent in the bottom phase at 15–25 m depths, which corresponded to the depth of benthic habitat at each location. Diving activity was highest while commuting to and from the nesting beach (about 1–2 days each way), with a level of quiescence during the intermediate period (i.e. the majority of the INI). Despite little thermal variation in seawater at this latitude (13.1°N), the length of the INI was influenced by ambient sea water temperature. Diving behaviour was consistent with females conserving energy reserves built up at foraging grounds prior to arrival at the nesting beach and minimising time spent in the water column away from safe refuge at night. The frequency of surfacing and the depths at which females spend most of their time varies between sites even within one species and may be crucial in managing the risks to animals temporarily residing offshore from important nesting beaches.
Emerging infectious diseases are a worldwide problem and are believed to play a major role in coral reef degradation. The study of coral diseases is difficult but the use of culture-independent molecular techniques has been, and will continue to be, useful in a system where a limited number of visible signs are commonly used to define a “coral disease”. We propose that coral “diseases”, with rare exception, are opportunistic infections secondary to exposure to physiological stress (e.g. elevated temperature) that result in reduced host resistance and unchecked growth of bacteria normally benign and non-pathogenic. These bacteria are from the environment, the host, or the coral mucus layer and become opportunistic pathogens. While difficult and time consuming, we do not advocate abandoning the study of disease-causing pathogens in corals. However, these studies should include comprehensive efforts to better understand the relationship between coral diseases and environmental changes, largely anthropogenic in nature, occurring on coral reefs around the world. These environmental insults are the cause of the physiological stress that subsequently leads to coral mortality and morbidity by many mechanisms including overwhelming infections by opportunistic pathogens.