Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures


Coral Dispersal Dynamics: New Insights Into Patterns of Connectivity

Event Name/Location

43rd Benthic Ecology Meeting, Jacksonville, FL, March 19-22, 2014

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Understanding current patterns of connectivity among coral populations and predicting how these patterns will change in response to climate change is paramount for the design of effective marine reserve networks. However, processes affecting coral larval dispersal are not well understood and are likely to be affected by ocean warming. We use a combination of laboratorial experiments and population models to predict current and climate change-induced patterns of dispersal in corals. We found that many coral larvae, even those from species with an obligate planktonic phase, develop with sufficient rapidity to produce high levels of retention on the natal reef. We also demonstrate that rising seawater temperatures accelerate coral larval development and increase larval mortality, leading to an increase in local larval retention on the majority of reefs around the world. As both rates of self-recruitment and larval mortality increase, connectivity among populations will weaken, reducing the chances of genetic rescue and making populations more responsive to local impacts and management initiatives. The results of my research are being used to develop bio-physical models of coral dispersal that can assist the placement and spacing of marine protected areas that maximise recovery rates following disturbances and resilience to climate change.