The ecological distribution and population dynamics of organisms depends upon their energy and nutrient budgets: the rate at which they can acquire energy and nutrients from the environment, how they allocate it to maintenance, growth, and reproduction, and how those energy allocation patterns influence survival and reproductive schedules. From the standpoint of metabolism and energetics, corals are particularly interesting because they have multiple levels of organization – the coral colony, the individual polyp within the colony, and the individual zooxanthellae (algal symbionts) that live inside the colony. Energy acquisition and expenditure depends in complex ways on organism size and geometry at each of these scales – for instance, colony shape and size influences boundary layer thickness around corals, with implications for rates of particle capture, but polyp size also correlates with capacity for particle feeding. Past work has focused on the performance of individual coral colonies. The next phase of this work is to understand how patterns of energy acquisition, allocation, and expenditure influence colony growth rates, and the schedule of lifetime reproductive output. Because colony shape, and polyp and colony size, also have ecological implications (e.g., for competitive ability), the tradeoffs imposed by different colony shapes and sizes have the potential to help us understand the diversity of ecological strategies adopted by corals, and their implications for biodiversity maintenance.
Madin, J. S. and S. R. Connolly. 2006. Ecological consequences of major hydrodynamic disturbances on coral reefs. Nature 444: 477-480.Hoogenboom et al. 2009
Hoogenboom, M.O., S.R. Connolly, and K.R.N. Anthony. 2009. Effects of photo acclimation on the light niche of corals: a process-based approach. Marine Biology 156: 2493–2503.
Madin, J.S., M.O. Hoogenboom, and S.R. Connolly. 2012. Integrating physiological and biomechanical drivers of population growth over environmental gradients on coral reefs. Journal of Experimental Biology 215: 968-976.