HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Joana Figueiredo, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Charles Messing, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Andre Daniels


The global stressors of ocean warming and acidification, as well as local stressors such as eutrophication, overfishing, and coastal construction, have all contributed to the severe decline in coral populations worldwide. Recovery of coral reefs depends partly on recruitment, which relies on the response of larvae to settlement cues indicative of habitat quality; however, it remains unclear whether recruitment in disturbed areas will be compromised. Specifically, as reefs become more disturbed and dominated by macroalgae, it is important to understand larval behavior in response to changes in habitat quality. In this study, we first assessed the settlement success of newly released Agaricia agariciteslarvae in response to several settlement cues, including temperature and water movement. Then, to test the Desperate Larva Hypothesis, the ability of larvae of different ages (0-7 days) to settle and discriminate between inducing and inhibitory settlement cues was assessed. Newly released larvae displayed a stronger preference for settling on crustose coralline algae (93%) than on ceramic plates in macroalgae- (30%) or conspecific-treated seawater (5%), or filtered seawater (13%) (control). Older larvae became progressively less discriminatory of settlement cues, settling even in response to inhibitory cues. This confirms that, although the absence of good settlement cues initially deters settlement, larvae become desperate as they become older and settle even on unfavorable substrates, thus contributing to recruitment in poor quality habitats.