Coral mass spawning predicted by rapid seasonal rise in ocean temperature

Coral spawning times have been linked to multiple environmental factors; however, to what extent these factors act as generalized cues across multiple species and large spatial scales is unknown. We used a unique dataset of coral spawning from 34 reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans to test if month of spawning and peak spawning month in assemblages of Acropora spp. can be predicted by sea surface temperature (SST), photosynthetically available radiation, wind speed, current speed, rainfall or sunset time. Contrary to the classic view that high mean SST initiates coral spawning, we found rapid increases in SST to be the best predictor in both cases (month of spawning: R2 = 0.73, peak: R2 = 0.62). Our findings suggest that a rapid increase in SST provides the dominant proximate cue for coral mass spawning over large geographical scales. We hypothesize that coral spawning is ultimately timed to ensure optimal fertilization success.