Reef-building corals are found across > 30° of latitude from tropical to temperate regions, where they occupy habitats greatly differing in seawater temperature and light regimes. It remains largely unknown, however, how the demography of corals differs across this gradient of environmental conditions. Variation in coral growth is especially important to coral populations, because aspects of coral demography are dependent on colony size, with both fecundity and survivorship increasing with larger colonies. Here we tested for latitudinal variation in annual growth rate and survival of juvenile corals, using 11 study locations extending from 17° S to 33° N in the West and South Pacific. Regression analyses revealed a significant decline in annual growth rates with increasing latitude, whereas no significant latitudinal pattern was detected in annual survival. Seawater temperature showed a significant and positive association with annual growth rates. Growth rates varied among the four common genera, allowing them to be ranked Acropora > Pocillopora > Porites > Dipsastraea. Acropora and Pocillopora showed more variation in growth rates across latitudes than Porites and Dipsastraea. Although the present data have limitations with regard to difference in depths, survey periods, and replication among locations, they provide evidence that a higher capacity for growth of individual colonies may facilitate population growth, and hence population recovery following disturbances, at lower latitudes. These trends are likely to be best developed in Acropora and Pocillopora, which have high rates of colony growth.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Aquatic Science