Seasonality of coral reproduction in the Dampier Archipelago, northern Western Australia
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Coral spawning in Western Australia (WA) occurs predominantly in the austral autumn in contrast to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) on Australia's east coast where most spawning occurs in spring. Recent work, however, suggests a second spawning period in northern WA with at least 16 Acropora spp spawning in spring or early summer. This discovery has initiated a re-examination of reproductive seasonality in northern WA, particularly on inshore reefs adjacent to large development projects, such as the site of this study in Mermaid Sound, in the Dampier Archipelago. Three locally abundant taxa, Porites spp, Pavona decussata and Turbinaria mesenterina were sampled monthly from September 2006 to May 2007 to determine sexuality, the mode of reproduction and the time of gamete maturity. All three taxa were gonochoric broadcast spawners. Porites spp. colonies were mature in November and December, P. decussata in March and April. In contrast, most colonies of T. mesenterina contained mature gametes for up to 5 months beginning in November, suggesting either individuals are releasing gametes on multiple occasions, or they retain mature gametes for more than 1 month. Field surveys to determine the reproductive status of the remaining coral assemblage were conducted prior to the full moon in October 2006 and March 2007. Only four species contained mature gametes in October 2006. In contrast, 55 species contained mature gametes in March 2007. We conclude that the major spawning season of corals on shallow-inshore reefs in the Dampier Archipelago is autumn, although taxa that spawn in spring and summer include Porites spp., Acropora spp. and possibly T. mesenterina that are numerically dominant at many of these sites. Consequently, management initiatives to limit the exposure of coral spawn to stressors associated with coastal development may be required in up to five months per year.
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