The relationship between physical and biological habitat conditions and hermatypic coral recruits abundance within insular reefs (Colombian Caribbean)
Little evidence exists on the dependence between the presence and abundance of juvenile hermatypic corals and the conditions of their habitats, despite that juveniles contribute with the understanding of the community structure and its reproductive success. To assess this, the abundance of nine species of juvenile corals was correlated with eight macro-habitat (location of the reef on shelf, depth) and micro-habitat (type and inclination of the substrate, exposure to light, texture and amount of sediment accumulated on bottom, potential growth area for juveniles) conditions. Sampling was conducted in four insular coral reefs in the Colombian Caribbean: two oceanic and two continental reefs (influenced by large rivers), covering a total of 600m2 and the distribution of corals on a vertical gradient. Contingency tables and coefficients (magnitude) and multiple correspondence analyses were used to evaluate the dependency ratios for each species. The results showed that Agaricia tenuifolia displayed the most robust pattern of dependence (two high and two moderate), significant for juveniles present at a high frequency in continental reefs, devoid of potential area for juvenile growth (surrounded by macroalgae), and covering horizontal substrates exposed to light. The juveniles were associated with a habitat of moderate to high bottom accumulation of extremely fine sediment. Porites astreoides presented four moderate dependencies; ocean reefs between 2-16m depths, a high frequency of juveniles on horizontal substrates, exposed to light, non-sedimented and occupied by competitors. Siderastrea siderea displayed three moderate dependences for juveniles in cryptic zones, inclined substrate and devoid of competitors. A. lamarcki, Leptoseris cucullata and A. agaricites presented two moderate dependences; these species share high abundance of juveniles in habitats with no sediment, exposed to light and occupied by competitors (except A. agaricites). The P. porites, Favia fragum and Montastraea cavernosa species had a moderate dependence with high incidence of juveniles in ocean reefs and microhabitats exposed to light. For the nine species, results indicate that the presence (colonization), abundance and survival of juveniles, depend on certain species-specific particularities of the habitat. However, the juveniles show high tolerance and plasticity to a range of habitat variables, given their independence and low dependence observed in over 50% of the variables assessed.
Keywords: recruitment, coral recruits, habitat, insular reefs, Caribbean, Colombia, Agaricia, Porites, Siderastrea, Leptoseris, Favia, Montastraea