Defining fundamental niche dimensions of corals: synergistic effects of colony size, light, and flow

Hoogenboom, Mia O., and Connolly, Sean R. (2009) Defining fundamental niche dimensions of corals: synergistic effects of colony size, light, and flow. Ecology, 90 (3). pp. 767-780.

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The ‘‘fundamental niche’’ is the range of conditions under which an organism can survive and reproduce, measured in the absence of biotic interactions. Niche measurements are often based on statistical relationships between species presence and measured environmental variables, or inferred from measured responses of species along hypothesized niche axes. In this study, we use novel, process-based models of how irradiance and gas diffusion influence photosynthesis and respiration to predict niche dimensions for three coral species: Acropora nasuta, Montipora foliosa, and Leptoria phrygia. We use a combination of mathematical modeling, laboratory experiments, and field observations to establish the link between energy acquisition and the dominant environmental gradients on reefs: light intensity and water flow velocity. Our approach allows us to quantify how the shape of the niche varies in response to light and flow conditions. The model predicts that, due to its higher photosynthetic capacity, the branching coral A. nasuta has a positive energy balance over a wider range of conditions than both a massive species (L. phrygia) and a foliose species (M. foliosa). Moreover, colony size influences niche width, with larger colonies of all three species achieving a positive energy balance over a broader range of conditions than small colonies. Comparison of model predictions with field data demonstrated that tissue biomass and reproductive output are significantly and positively correlated with predicted energy acquisition. These results show how interactions between light and flow determine organism performance along environmental gradients on coral reefs. In addition, this study demonstrates the utility of process-based models for quantifying how physiology influences ecology, and for predicting the ecological consequences of varying environmental conditions.

Item ID: 10512
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1939-9170
Keywords: Acropora nasuta; carbon acquisition; fundamental niche; Leptoria phrygia; light intensity; mass transfer efficient; Montipora foliosa; photosynthesis; physiological model; scleractinian corals; water flow velocity, marine science
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Reproduced with permission from Ecological Society of America (ESA).

Date Deposited: 16 Apr 2010 05:00
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060203 Ecological Physiology @ 40%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 40%
01 MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES > 0102 Applied Mathematics > 010202 Biological Mathematics @ 20%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 70%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 30%
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