Land-Based Culture for the Restoration of Threatened Staghorn Coral

Grant Winners

  • Alison Moulding, PhD – Oceanographic Center
  • D. Abigail Renegar, PhD – Oceanographic Center
  • Keri O'Neil, MS – Oceanographic Center
  • Adam St. Gelais, MS – Oceanographic Center

Dean

  • Richard Dodge, Ph.D. – Oceanographic Center

Abstract

Award Winners

The staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis was recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to a severe reduction over the last several decades throughout its range in Florida and the Caribbean. Natural recovery of this species is hindered by low sexual recruitment rates and limited local genetic diversity. Thus efficient options for restoration and conservation are needed. A widely accepted method of promoting natural recovery is to transplant genetically diverse colonies to reefs to promote sexual reproduction and resilience to disturbances and stressors. This project will test the feasibility of propagating corals through asexual fragmentation in land-based culture facilities for use in future restoration efforts. In addition, it will test the sexual compatibility of specific genotypes through fertilization and settlement success experiments. Finally it will examine changes in the microbial-coral association that may impact a coral's susceptibility to disease and bleaching. Survival, health, and growth of coral fragments will be used as metrics to compare two land-based culture facilities and their performance in comparison to offshore nurseries. In addition, results of fertilization and settlement success of reciprocal crosses of four distinct genotypes will be useful to guide future decisions regarding transplantation of colonies for restoration. Propagating corals through both asexual and sexual methods will provide a two-pronged approach to increasing genetic diversity and promoting successful sexual reproduction necessary for species recovery.