Connectivity of coral reef animals

Graduate Student: Eric Tong


Following a disturbance to a coral reef, such as from cyclones or crown-of-thorns sea star outbreaks, recovery is aided by the propagation of new individuals into the affected area. These newcomers are termed recruits, and they may come as the local offspring of surviving individuals, or as migrants from neighboring or even distant reefs. Therefore, the rate at which a damaged reef can be replenished depends in part upon the degree of exchange among plants and animals living on different reefs, which we call connectivity.

The scale at which reefs are connected can vary from species to species, due to varying life histories, dispersal strategies, and local abundances. For the effective management of reef resources, it is important to understand the degree of connectivity for a broad suite of species across a wide network of reefs. Patterns often emerge, revealing shared mechanisms, which promote or hinder connectivity, such as ocean currents or even human activities. This is particularly important in deciding what areas of the ocean are to be protected, or in predicting how a reef will recover following a disturbance.


Eric Tong is investigating the connectivity for about a dozen reef species within and among the islands of Moʻorea, Tetiʻaroa and Tahiti. This research hopes to uncover where recruits are coming from following a recent series of natural disturbances centered on Moʻorea. These results should also aid in determining the scale at which management and conservation decisions for these islands must be considered.

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