Photosynthetic usable energy explains vertical patterns of biodiversity in zooxanthellate corals

Tomás López-Londoño, Kelly Gómez-Campo, Xavier Hernández-Pech, Susana Enríquez, Roberto Iglesias-Prieto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The biodiversity in coral reef ecosystems is distributed heterogeneously across spatial and temporal scales, being commonly influenced by biogeographic factors, habitat area and disturbance frequency. A potential association between gradients of usable energy and biodiversity patterns has received little empirical support in these ecosystems. Here, we analyzed the productivity and biodiversity variation over depth gradients in symbiotic coral communities, whose members rely on the energy translocated by photosynthetic algal symbionts (zooxanthellae). Using a mechanistic model we explored the association between the depth-dependent variation in photosynthetic usable energy to corals and gradients of species diversity, comparing reefs with contrasting water clarity and biodiversity patterns across global hotspots of marine biodiversity. The productivity-biodiversity model explained between 64 and 95% of the depth-related variation in coral species richness, indicating that much of the variation in species richness with depth is driven by changes in the fractional contribution of photosynthetically fixed energy by the zooxanthellae. These results suggest a fundamental role of solar energy availability and photosynthetic production in explaining global-scale patterns of coral biodiversity and community structure along depth gradients. Accordingly, the maintenance of water optical quality in coral reefs is fundamental to protect coral biodiversity and prevent reef degradation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20821
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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