Resource partitioning and paleoecology of Neogene free-living corals as determined from skeletal stable isotope composition

James S. Klaus*, Sean T. Murray, Peter K. Swart, Donald F. McNeill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Changes in the Caribbean coral fauna associated with Plio-Pleistocene extinctions are unique in that origination preceded extinction. This pattern is particularly evident in free-living solitary and flabello-meandroid (FSFM) corals. Here we use the stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen to assess the paleoautecology of pre-turnover FSFM corals from the Cibao Basin, northern Dominican Republic. We assess photosymbiosis and resource utilization within FSFM corals and how changing Neogene paleoclimatic and paleoceanographic conditions may have contributed to originations and extinctions within this unique ecological group. Measurements of δ13C and δ18O were compared between two known zooxanthellate coral species, two known azooxanthellate species, and six FSFM species of the Cibao Basin. Skeletal δ13C provided the best indicator of resource utilization by FSFM corals. For both modern reef corals and Mio-Pliocene reef corals from the Cibao Basin, values of δ13C fall between 0‰ and –2‰ whereas the δ13C values of azooxanthellate corals generally fall between –3‰ and –9‰. Both modern and fossil FSFM corals lie intermediate to these end members. FSFM values of δ13C fall between –1‰ and –4‰ and suggest reduced photosymbiosis in comparison to typical reef corals. Reduced photosymbiosis of FSFM corals in comparison to reef corals is also reflected in a stronger covariation between δ13C and δ18O. Though FSFM corals are clearly utilizing translocated carbon from associated algal symbionts, the more depleated values of δ13C and covariation with δ18O suggest a greater dependence on heterotrophic feeding. This ecological lifestyle likely has made FSFM corals sensitive to changes in primary productivity that characterize the Caribbean Neogene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)937-954
Number of pages18
JournalBulletin of Marine Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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