Approximately half of the Caribbean Oligocene reef coral fauna became locally extinct during the Early Miocene; roughly two thirds of the genera driven to local extinction still survive in the Indo-Pacific. Coral genera with lecithotrophic larvae (brooders) preferentially survived, over those with planktotrophic larvae (broadcasters). Among 37 genera for which we inferred reproductive mode, 73% of brooding genera survived the Oligocene/Miocene extinction events, while only 29% of the broadcasting genera survived. The proportion of brooders to broadcasters also increased markedly. During the late Oligocene, 47% of Caribbean reef coral genera were broadcasters, but in the middle Miocene, only 32% of the genera were broadcasters.
Survivorship in Puerto Rican reefs was correlated with tolerance of cold and turbid conditions. Genera tolerant of both cold water and turbidity had much higher survival rates than those tolerant of turbidity alone. Only 25% of the genera that could tolerate neither cold water nor turbidity survived. Most of the eurytopic genera were brooders, while most of the stenotypic genera were broadcasters.
We present two hypotheses that may account for the preferential survivorship of brooders: the recruitment hypothesis, and the dispersal hypothesis. The recruitment hypothesis holds that brooders survive preferentially because lecithotrophic larvae have higher recruitment success than do planktotrophic larvae in marginal habitats, such as upwelling zones. This is supported by the correlation of brooding and eurytopy. The dispersal hypothesis suggests that brooders survive preferentially because lecithotrophic larvae, which typically inherit zooxanthellae from the egg, have a longer larval lifespan and, hence, a wider potential dispersal range, than planktotrophic larvae, which typically capture zooxanthellae from the water column. Biogeographic range data, however, do not support this second hypothesis: modern Indo-Pacific brooding and broadcasting genera have nearly identical ranges, and many brooding species have narrower longitudinal ranges than do broadcasting species. Preferential survivorship of brooding corals contrasts sharply with survivorship patterns among molluscs during extinction events; among molluscs, broadcasters are favored over brooders.
A major increase in upwelling at the Oligocene/Miocene boundary was probably responsible for this extinction/geographic restriction event. Preferential survival of brooding and mixed mode coral genera appears to be a product of their being better able to recruit and survive in marginal conditions such as upwelling zones.