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Mangubhai, S 2007, 'Reproduction and recruitment of scleractinian corals on equatorial reefs in Mombasa, Kenya', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright S Mangubhai 2007


This study examined patterns of coral reproduction and recruitment on lagoonal reefs adjacent to Mombasa in Kenya, at latitude 4ºS. Very little detailed research has been done on the reproductive patterns of scleractinian corals on equatorial reefs, where it has been suggested that seasonality and spawning synchrony may break down due to the weak environmental cues that are thought to govern the onset and timing of reproduction.

Gametogenic data were collected for three faviid (Echinopora gemmacea, Platygyra daedalea and Leptoria phrygia) and three Acropora species (A. tenuis, A. valida and Acropora sp.1) in the Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve between April 2003 – May 2005. A further 20 species of Acropora were identified (9 species represented range extensions) and marked to examine intra- and inter-specific spawning synchrony within this genus.

In comparison to other regions, the overall pattern of coral reproduction in Kenya was found to be asynchronous, with spawning occurring over 9 months of the year from August – April, with some level of ‘temporal reproductive isolation’ occurring between species in relation to the main lunar month and lunar quarter when spawning occurred. Proximate cues governing the timing of reproduction could not be clearly discerned in Kenya with spawning occurring during both rising and maximum temperatures, during both neap and spring tides and across all lunar phases.

Acropora species spawned over a 7-month period between October – April and faviid species over a 5-month period from December - April. The timing of reproduction in Acropora varied both within and among species, with the main release of gametes occurring from January – March when sea surface temperatures were at their summer maximum. Individual species released gametes over 2-5 months. The greatest overlap in spawning Acropora species occurred in February, which coincided with the spawning months of P. daedalea and E. gemmacea and suggests that some degree of multispecific spawning is a characteristic of Kenyan reefs. Within the main spawning period individual Acropora species had their main spawning in different lunar months. Acropora species released gametes in all lunar quarters, with the highest number of colonies and species spawning in the 3rd lunar quarter (i.e. in the 7 nights after full moon). Spawning in the faviids was more synchronised than Acropora species with the majority of faviid corals spawning in the 3rd lunar quarter.

Single annual cycles of gametogenesis were recorded in E. gemmacea, A. tenuis, L.phrygia, most colonies of A. valida and Acropora sp.1, and in 84% of P. daedalea colonies. Biannual cycles of gametogenesis were recorded in 16% of P.daedalea colonies, which included two morphotypes identified in the Mombasa lagoon through morphometric and genetic studies. The presence of different oocyte sizes in L.phrygia during gametogenesis suggested that in some colonies there were two slightly overlapping oogenic cycles, which terminated in spawning within 1-2 months of each other. Overlapping oogenic cycles have not previously been recorded in hermaphroditic broadcast spawning corals in the tropics.

The findings from Kenya support the hypothesis of protracted breeding seasons and a breakdown of spawning synchrony nearer the equator. It is hypothesised that the high fecundities recorded in faviid and Acropora species in Kenya compared to other regions, may allow reef corals to stagger their reproduction over 2-5 months, without incurring a significant reduction in fertilisation rates.

Spat from the Family Pocilloporidae dominated settlement tiles in the Marine National Park and Reserve comprising 93.7% of spat, which contrasts with other tropical reefs where Acroporidae spat dominate. Patterns of settlement of Acroporidae spat generally coincided with the timing and extended spawning season in Acropora species in Kenya. The density and relative composition of coral recruits and juvenile corals on natural substrata recorded during this study were similar to those recorded before the 1997-98 bleaching event. There is no evidence to suggest that Kenya’s reefs have undergone a phase-shift in community structure, and reef recovery is occurring post-bleaching with mean percent hard coral cover currently at 25%. The slow rate of recovery of Kenya’s reefs is likely to reflect the scale of the mortality, source and availability of coral larvae as well as post-settlement processes operating at individual sites. In the medium-term, the recovery of Kenya’s reefs appears to be more strongly dependent on larvae from local reefs.