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Calm before the spawn: Climate change and coral spawning

Study sheds new light on threats to coral reproduction

What's the point of setting up marine reserves to protect coral reefs from pollution, ship groundings and overfishing if climate change could cause far more damage? A study published this week in London in Proceedings of the Royal Society B provides the answer.

For decades researchers have known that corals synchronize their release of eggs and sperm into the water but were unsure of how and why. Robert van Woesik, a biologist at the Florida Institute of Technology, explains why corals spawn for just a few nights in some places but elsewhere string out their love life over many months.

The study shows that corals spawn when regional wind fields are light. When it is calm the eggs and sperm have the chance to unite before they are dispersed. Corals off the coast of Kenya have months of light winds so they can reproduce for much of the year. On the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, calm weather is short-lived and the coral reproductive season is brief.

The results of the study are critically important for effective reef conservation.

According to van Woesik: "Coral reproduction is a very local event. This means local conservation efforts will maximize reproductive success and give reef systems a chance to adapt to global climate change."

Florida Institute of Technology

Founded at the dawn of the Space Race 50 years ago, Florida Tech is the only independent, technological university in the Southeast. With more than 7,000 students enrolled on main campus, extended campuses and online, Florida Tech has been named a Barron's Guide "Best Buy" in College Education, listed among America's best colleges in U.S. News & World Report, and ranked in 2009 as one of the nation's top 18 engineering technical institutes by the Fiske Guide to Colleges. The university offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. Fields of study include science, engineering, aeronautics, business, humanities, mathematics, psychology, communication and education. Additional information is available online at

The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. As we prepare for our 350th anniversary in 2010, we are working to achieve five strategic priorities, to:

Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation
Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice
Invigorate science and mathematics education
Increase access to the best science internationally
Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery
The Royal Society is one of the most Open-Access friendly of all science publishers. Our approach is to widen access to research outputs in a number of ways, all of which are compatible with the long term sustainability of the publishing process. We are partners in a number of international schemes operated by the UN and WHO to make scientific journal articles available immediately and free of charge to the world's poorest nations.

Robert Van Woesik | EurekAlert!
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