Natural and anthropogenic disturbances may fragment stony reef corals, but few quantitative, data exist on the impacts of skeletal fragmentation on sexual reproduction in corals. We experimentally fragmented colonies of the branching coral Pocillopora damicornis and determined the number and size of planula larvae released during one lunar reproductive cycle. Partially fragmented colonies significantly delayed both the onset and peak period of planula release compared with intact control colonies. Most fragments removed from the corals died within 11-18 days, and released few planulae. The total number of planulae released per coral colony varied exponentially with remaining tissue volume, and was significantly lower in damaged versus undamaged colonies. However, the number of planulae produced per unit tissue volume, and planula size, did not vary with damage treatment. We conclude that even partial fragmentation of P. damicornis colonies (<25% of tissue removed) decreases their larval output by reducing reproductive tissue volume. Repeated breakage of corals, such as caused by intensive diving tourism or frequent storms, may lead to substantially reduced sexual reproduction. Therefore, reef management should limit human activities that fracture stony corals and lead to decreases in colony size and reproductive output.
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Acknowledgements We thank researchers at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, especially E.F. Cox, P.L. Jokiel, D. Krupp, K. Rodgers, L. Protheioe, and S. Mukai. This manuscript was improved by comments from two anonymous reviewers. Funding was provided by the Edwin Pauley Foundation, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, and the Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar Ilan University.
- Planula larvae
- Sexual reproduction