Reef-scale trends in Florida Acropora spp. abundance and the effects of population enhancement

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Abstract

Since the listing of Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis under the US Endangered Species Act in 2006, increasing investments have been made in propagation of listed corals (primarily A. cervicornis, A. palmata to a much lesser extent) in offshore coral nurseries and outplanting cultured fragments to reef habitats. This investment is superimposed over a spatiotemporal patchwork of ongoing disturbances (especially storms, thermal bleaching, and disease) as well as the potential for natural population recovery. In 2014 and 2015, we repeated broad scale (> 50 ha), low precision Acropora spp. censuses (i.e., direct observation by snorkelers documented via handheld GPS) originally conducted in appropriate reef habitats during 2005-2007 to evaluate the trajectory of local populations and the effect of population enhancement. Over the decade-long study, A. palmata showed a cumulative proportional decline of 0.4 - 0.7x in colony density across all sites, despite very low levels of outplanting at some sites. A. cervicornis showed similar proportional declines at sites without outplanting. In contrast, sites that received A. cervicornis outplants showed a dramatic increase in density (over 13x). Indeed, change in A. cervicornis colony density was significantly positively correlated with cumulative numbers of outplants across sites. This study documents a substantive reef-scale benefit of Acropora spp. population enhancement in the Florida Keys, when performed at adequate levels, against a backdrop of ongoing population decline.

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Miller, M. W., Kerr, K., & Williams, D. E. (2016). Reef-scale trends in Florida Acropora spp. abundance and the effects of population enhancement. PeerJ, 2016(9). https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2523

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