Eckert RJ, Studivan MS, Voss JD. 2019. Populations of the coral species Montastraea cavernosa on the Belize Barrier Reef lack vertical connectivity. Scientific Reports 9:7200 doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-43479-x PDF
This study was funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and a grant from the PADI foundation. The research is a product of a collaborative effort led by the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) headquartered at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. CIOERT seeks to increase our understanding of mesophotic connectivity and ecology through enhanced habitat characterization and development of exploration technologies. Through this project we collaborated with Smithsonian Marine Station and the Carrie Bow Cay Field Station.
We examined the genetic structure of M. cavernosa populations on the Belize Barrier Reef across four depth zones from shallow reefs down to upper mesophotic coral ecosystems (10, 16, 25, 35 m). Here we identified genetic structure between “shallow” (10 & 16 m) and “deep” (25 & 35 m) populations. This observed break in gene flow coincides with the geomorphological transition from reef crest to fore reef at all four sampling sites. These results suggest there may be variability in oceanographic currents and environmental variables across depth zones driving the observed genetic differentiation. We hope to return to Belize later this year to collect more detailed oceanographic data that coincide with coral spawning times.