Date of Award


Document Type




Thesis Advisor

Mark Teece


Scleractinian corals, Cayman Islands, coral feeding habits, coral heterotrophy


Two Scleractinian corals, Agaricia agaricites and Montastraea cavernosa, were collected from shallow (20 m depth) and mesophotic (60 m) ecosystems from the Cayman Islands. The fatty acid content of these species was analyzed by gas chromatography to determine variation in fatty acid profiles between the species and within species at different depths (shallow and mesophotic). Fatty acid composition is indicative of an organism’s diet and can be used to determine feeding habits of corals. The corals studied had different fatty acid content, suggesting different feeding mechanisms. Additionally, a difference in fatty acid content arose as a result of living in different environments for M. cavernosa but not A. agaricites, suggesting feeding plasticity and supporting species-specific adaptations to new living environments.

In shallow ecosystems (20 m) A. agaricites contained more polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) than M. cavernosa and M. cavernosa contained more saturated fatty acids (SAFAs) than A. agaricites. There was no difference in the fatty acid profiles between colonies from mesophotic reefs at 60 m. The difference in FA content between species could be a result of species-specific feeding.

Shallow and mesophotic colonies of A. agaricites have similar fatty acid content while deep water colonies of M. cavernosa contain more PUFAs and less SAFAs than shallow colonies. This difference in fatty acid content may be a result of a species- specific response of these two organisms adapting to the different environments.