Coral reef restoration methods such as coral gardening are becoming increasingly considered as viable options to mitigate reef degradation and enhance recovery of depleted coral populations. In this study, we describe several aspects of the coral gardening approach that dem- onstrate this methodology is an effective way of propa- gating the threatened Caribbean staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis: (1) the growth of colonies within the nursery exceeded the growth rates of wild staghorn colonies in the same region; (2) the collection of branch tips did not result in any further mortality to the donor colonies beyond the coral removed for transplantation; (3) decreases in linear extension of the donor branches were only temporary and donor branches grew faster than control branches after an initial recovery period of approximately 3–6 weeks; (4) fragmentation did not affect the growth rates of non-donor branches within the same colony; (5) small branch tips experienced initial mortality due to handling and trans- portation but surviving tips grew well over time; and (6) when the growth of the branch tips is added to the regrowth of the fragmented donor branches, the new coral produced was 1.4–1.8 times more than new growth in undisturbed colonies. Based on these results, the collection of small (2.5–3.5 cm) branch tips was an effective propagation method for this branching coral species resulting in increased biomass accumulation and limited damage to parental stocks.
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