Twilight spectral dynamics and the coral reef invertebrate spawning response

There are dramatic and physiologically relevant changes in both skylight color and intensity during evening twilight as the pathlength of direct sunlight through the atmosphere increases, ozone increasingly absorbs long wavelengths and skylight becomes increasingly blue shifted. The moon is above the horizon at sunset during the waxing phase of the lunar cycle, on the horizon at sunset on the night of the full moon and below the horizon during the waning phase. Moonlight is red shifted compared with daylight, so the presence, phase and position of the moon in the sky could modulate the blue shifts during twilight. Therefore, the influence of the moon on twilight color is likely to differ somewhat each night of the lunar cycle, and to vary especially rapidly around the full moon, as the moon transitions from above to below the horizon during twilight. Many important light-mediated biological processes occur during twilight, and this lunar effect may play a role. One particularly intriguing biological event tightly correlated with these twilight processes is the occurrence of mass spawning events on coral reefs. Therefore, we measured downwelling underwater hyperspectral irradiance on a coral reef during twilight for several nights before and after the full moon. We demonstrate that shifts in twilight color and intensity on nights both within and between evenings, immediately before and after the full moon, are correlated with the observed times of synchronized mass spawning, and that these optical phenomena are a biologically plausible cue for the synchronization of these mass spawning events.

Sweeney, A., Boch, C., Johnsen, S., Morse, D.
Journal of Experimental Biology
Volume: 214
Number: 5
Pages: 770-777
Date: November, 2010
ICB Affiliated Authors: Daniel E Morse