Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Earth & Environmental Sciences


Kyle C McDonald

Committee Members

Maria Tzortziou

David J Lohman

Karsten Shein

Subject Categories



Coral Reefs, In situ, Remote Sensing, Sea Surface Temperature, Symbioses


I examined the effects of in situ and satellite-based sea surface temperatures (SST) on the seasonal coral-algae symbiotic relationship in La Parguera, Puerto Rico. Climate change-driven rising sea temperatures are endangering most of the world’s reefs, which are currently in decline. Satellite remote sensing datasets support global-scale characterization and monitoring of risks to reefs associated with increasing temperatures. Corals’ unique symbiotic relationship with unicellular algae in the family Symbiodiniaceae is largely responsible for helping corals cope with increasing ocean temperatures, and some corals are able to adjust their symbiont species in response to temperature disturbances. My research had two components to evaluate how satellite SST and in situ data corresponded to symbiont shuffling: (1) assessment of in situ temperatures at the depth of coral reefs with corresponding satellite-based SST datasets, and (2) evaluating the seasonal coral symbioses community dynamics of Orbicella faveolata and Montastraea cavernosa using high resolution quantitative PCR. This study involved a combination of fieldwork, computational analysis, and detailed laboratory work. All three satellite-based SST datasets evaluated produced a cool bias and represented the temperature at the depth of the corals with ~1°C offset. There were no seasonal differences in the coral symbioses for either species. The results highlight the need for further in situ and satellite validation studies, and the complexity of the coral symbiotic relationship. The conclusions will be useful to coral conservation managers interested in using satellite SST datasets to monitor coral reefs, and marine bioengineering efforts focused on optimizing the coral symbioses to combat climate change.

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