HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

Second Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

First Advisor

Nicole Fogarty

Second Advisor

Joana Figueiredo

Third Advisor

Xaymara Serrano


Multiple stressors have caused a decline in coral populations. Broadcast spawning corals once dominated the Florida Reef Tract (FRT), but since their decline, smaller brooding corals, soft corals, and macroalgae are replacing them. Brooding corals are more resilient to current threats in part because they are reproductive throughout much of the year and their larvae are competent to settle after release. Despite the ubiquity of brooders on Florida reefs, much of their reproductive strategy remains unknown. This study aimed to examine paternity as a function of colony size and density in Porites astreoides, a common brooding coral in the FRT. Porites astreoides colonies were configured in arrays at three densities that were replicated three times. A focal colony was surrounded by six other colonies, separated from the focal colony at different distances (1m, 7m, and 15m) representing high, moderate, and low population densities, respectively. All arrays were placed in the field but were separated from the reef and naturally occurring P. astreoides colonies by at least 50 m. Four days before the new moon, colonies were transported to the laboratory for larval collection. Over a four day period, a total of 3,184 larvae were collected from 24 colonies, 13 of which released larvae over consecutive days. The resulting larvae were genotyped using seven microsatellite markers. All larvae had the exact genotypes of the colony from which the larvae were collected, i.e. maternal- egg donor. This suggested the larvae were parthenogenically produced and no sperm was used to fertilize the eggs. This is the first study to suggest that parthenogenesis is occurring in P. astreoides. In today's oceans that have been depleted of corals, parthenogenesis may be an advantageous reproductive strategy used to boost populations. However, parthenogenesis reduces the genetic diversity which could hinder successful sexual reproduction in the future causing fragmented populations.


This research and student were supported in part by the National Science Foundation (OCE-1538469).