Three species of the reef coral genus Madracis display skeletal isotopic characteristics that relate to depth, colony topography, and consequently to coral physiology. The joint interpretation of skeletal delta(13)C and delta(18)O provides information on the ecological plasticity and adaptation to depth of a coral species. Isotopic results are most easily understood in terms of "kinetic" effects, which reduce both delta(18)O and delta(13)C below isotopic equilibrium values, and "metabolic" effects, which only influence the skeletal delta(13)C. Madracis mirabilis is adapted to depths shallower than 20 m, and shows the greatest range in kinetic effects and the strongest metabolic C-13 enrichments caused by symbiont photosynthesis. Madracis formosa lives deeper than 40 m, and shows a reduced range of kinetic effects and relatively weak metabolic C-13 enrichments. Madracis pharensis inhabits depths from 5 to >60 m, and does not attain the strength of kinetic effects of either of the other two species, apparently because it is not quite as well adapted to rapid growth at either extreme.
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