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From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

Asexual budding and aggregated spatial distribution of fungiid corals from disturbed reefs in Moorea, French Polynesia

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Hannah Nelson
Daniel Sternberg (dsternberg)
Peter Edmunds (pedmunds)

In Moorea, French Polynesia, fungiid corals are important members of coral communities where their solitary and free-living life histories, combined with sexual and asexual reproduction, makes them interesting organisms to evaluate the processes driving coral community dynamics. We exploited this potential in Moorea following two major disturbances -- Cyclone Oli and an Acanthaster outbreak – that greatly reduced coral cover in multiple habitats by 2010. In April 2015, surveys of fringing reefs along the north shore revealed many fungiids that appeared to be dead with no visible tissue, and the greater size of “dead” versus live fungiids demonstrated that populations had not recovered from recent disturbances. However, fungiid recruits were abundant (0.5 ± 0.2 corals m-2), and accounted for 53% of all living fungiids.  Surveys of growth locations of fungiid recruits revealed that 92% (n = 391) were attached to skeletons of “dead” fungiids, with which their densities were positively correlated. Given the well-known capacity of fungiids to regrow from relic tissue following catastrophic damage, it is likely that most fungiid recruits in Moorea were asexual propagules derived from regeneration of relic tissue. For these corals, asexual proliferation from relic tissue may be an important means of population recovery following disturbances that leave many fungiids apparently “dead”.

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