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Brady, A., Willis, B., Harder, L., & Vizel, P. (2016). Lunar Phase Modulates Circadian Gene Expression Cycles in the Broadcast Spawning Coral Acropora millepora. Biol Bullet, 230(2), 130–142.
Abstract: Many broadcast spawning corals in multiple reef regions release their gametes with incredible temporal precision just once per year, using the lunar cycle to set the night of spawning. Moonlight, rather than tides or other lunar-regulated processes, is thought to be the proximate factor responsible for linking the night of spawning to the phase of the Moon. We compared patterns of gene expression among colonies of the broadcast spawning coral Acropora millepora at different phases of the lunar cycle, and when they were maintained under one of three experimentally simulated lunar lighting treatments: i) lunar lighting conditions matching those on the reef, or lunar patterns mimicking either ii) constant full Moon conditions, or iii) constant new Moon conditions. Normal lunar illumination was found to shift both the level and timing of clock gene transcription cycles between new and full moons, with the peak hour of expression for a number of genes occurring earlier in the evening under a new Moon when compared to a full Moon. When the normal lunar cycle is replaced with nighttime patterns equivalent to either a full Moon or a new Moon every evening, the normal monthlong changes in the level of expression are destroyed for most genes. In combination, these results indicate that daily changes in moonlight that occur over the lunar cycle are essential for maintaining normal lunar periodicity of clock gene transcription, and this may play a role in regulating spawn timing. These data also show that low levels of light pollution may have an impact on coral biological clocks.