Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (MS)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Cliff Ross

Second Advisor

Dr. Judith D. Ochrietor

Third Advisor

Dr. Valerie J. Paul

Department Chair

Dr. Daniel C. Moon

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


Scleractinian coral populations are declining worldwide in response to numerous stressors operating on both global and regional scales. Rising sea surface temperatures associated with global climate change and the increasing frequency of coral-macroalgae competitive interactions are two of the gravest ecological drivers facing coral reef ecosystems. However, little is known about how these stressors interact to impact corals, their health, and potential modes of population recovery. These threats also highlight the need to develop reliable techniques that detect stress in multiple life-history stages of hermatypic corals prior to the degradation of coral reef habitats. To address these concerns we evaluated the effects of elevated sea surface temperatures (+3.5°C), Dictyota menstrualis competition, and their combined impacts on three life-history stages of the reef-building coral Porites astreoides. Elevated temperature induced sub-lethal stress yet had varied responses that were contingent on the life-history stage being examined. Hyperthermal stress did not consistently effect the transcriptional expression of heat shock proteins (Hsp) 16 or 60, but was readily detected utilizing biomarkers of the oxidative stress pathway. The presence of D. menstrualis significantly reduced coral survival and recruitment beyond simple space occupation in every coral life-history stage examined.While macroalgal exposure and elevated temperature had distinct effects on coral survival and physiological condition, the combination of both stressors induced a synergistic impact on biomarkers of oxidative stress in coral larvae. The results highlight the potential of biomarkers of oxidative stress for detecting hyperthermal stress in scleractinian corals. They also support the accepted notion that benthic macroalgae compete with reef-building corals via direct contact for space on coral reefs and that elevated temperatures can reduce the health of the coral holobiont. In addition, the results indicate that larvae from P. astreoides are more susceptible to the impacts of hyperthermal stress compared to established corals and that multiple perturbations can interact to exacerbate coral health.