Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date

12-8-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

David S. Gilliam

Second Advisor

Joana Figueiredo

Third Advisor

Kathleen S. Lunz

Abstract

The pillar coral, Dendrogyra cylindrus, has been commonly described as widely distributed, but rare throughout its geographical range in the Caribbean. Having recently been listed as Threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, an understanding of population status is needed to promote species conservation and population recovery. Previous to this study the status of the pillar coral population in the state waters of Florida, U.S.A, was relatively unknown primarily due to few colonies being recorded and no comprehensive summary of population abundance, distribution or health being completed. Along with various environmental and anthropogenic factors affecting the pillar coral population on the Florida Reef Tract (FRT), it appears that reproductive limitations may also be contributing to species decline and limiting population recovery as evidenced by the lack of reported juvenile D. cylindrus colonies reported on the Florida Reef Tract (FRT) in the past 17 years.

The factors contributing to this phenomenon are currently unknown, however are suspected to be derived from the pillar corals reproductive biology. Being described as a gonochoric, broadcast spawner, sexual reproduction relies on the synchronous release of gametes from colonies of separate sexes, and with low adult colony densities reported for the pillar coral on the FRT, gamete concentrations from both sexes may be too low for fertilization to occur.

In 2014 submissions of pillar coral locations from the scientific and lay community were compiled and 610 D. cylindrus colonies along Florida Reef Tract were identified (Lunz et al. 2016). In my study, I describe the population structure of D. cylindrus for the southeast Florida region of the FRT which includes 65 of the total 610 colonies. For each of the 65 colonies, colony depth, demographic, and condition data were recorded including size (length, width, and height), percent of recent mortality, and presence and severity of disease and bleaching. Out of all locations identified in this region, about 50% contained only a single colony of D. cylindrus and the maximum number of colonies per site was 14. Throughout the duration of the study, devastating losses of live tissue were observed following the bleaching and disease events impacting the Florida Reef Tract in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and the status of the southeast Florida population of pillar coral is at serious risk of local extinction.

To investigate the ability of colonies of D. cylindrus to sexually reproduce (referred to as sexual reproduction potential) tissue samples were collected from 95 colonies within 15 sites along the FRT and were prepared for histological analysis. The sex of each colony, sizes of gametes in mature developmental stages, the abundance of gametes per cm2 of tissue, and sex ratios for locations on the FRT were reported. All tissue samples from male and female colonies contained gametes that were ≥90% mature; however sex ratios were found to be skewed in all locations, deviating significantly from the 1:1 ratio expected for typical resource allocation in random mating. Hermaphroditic colonies of D. cylindrus are described for the first time throughout its geographical range in this study and comparisons to gonochoristic colonies confirmed that these hermaphrodites are sexually reproductive individuals.

Results from this effort provide a more thorough understanding of the reproductive biology of D. cylindrus and essential data for the support of future conservation management and restoration strategies for this FRT population and comparative data for other Caribbean populations.

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