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Synchrony of spawning in many hermatypic corals, typically a few nights after the full moon, is putatively dependent on solar and lunar light cycles in conjunction with other possible cues such as tides and temperature. We analyze here the contributions of separate components of light dynamics, because the effects of twilight and lunar skylight on coral spawning synchrony have previously been conflated and the alternative hypothesis that these components have differential contributions as proximate cues has not been tested. Moonlight-dependent changes in spectra during twilight, rates of decreasing twilight intensities, and changes in lunar photoperiod were experimentally decoupled using programmed light-emitting diodes and compared for their separate effects on spawning synchrony in Acropora humilis. Effects on synchrony under the control of synthetic lunar cues were greatest in response to changes in lunar photoperiod; changes in light intensities and spectra had lesser influence. No significant differences among treatment responses were found at the circa-diel time scale. We conclude that spawning synchrony on a particular lunar night and specific time of night is a threshold response to differential periods of darkness after twilight that is primarily influenced by lunar photoperiod and secondarily by discrete optical components of early nocturnal illumination.