Research

Investigations on Marginal Reef Systems: Species Distribution, Population Ecology, and Community Structure of Acropora cervicornis off Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Principal Investigator: Bernardo Vargas-Ángel, Ph.D.

Issue

Underwater photograph illustrating the general appearance and extent of living coral cover at one of the Acropora cervicornis thickets off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, FLDue to the dramatic decline of Acropora cervicornis throughout the Caribbean, notable structural and functional changes have occurred in many reefs. Thus, persistence and growth of dense A. cervicornis thickets off the coast of Fort Lauderdale are noteworthy because they develop in a high-latitude environment, subject to natural and anthropogenic stressors, and provide an interesting counterpoint to other white band disease-impacted A. cervicornis populations in the Florida Keys and throughout the Caribbean.

Project and Findings

In light of the unusual occurrence of a thriving A. cervicornis population in nearshore waters of Broward County, NCRI is strongly committed to the advancement of scientific research and public awareness regarding the ecological importance of these unique communities. This research program investigates the interplay between A. cervicornis demographics, reproduction, and environmental disturbances. Our demographic surveys indicate that the Broward County A. cervicornis is the largest extant population of this species in the continental USA, providing critical habitat for numerous species of invertebrates and fishes. This population invests a considerable amount of energy in gamete production and release, and represents an important seeding stock and potential source of propagules to repopulate/replenish other previously impacted south Florida coral reef habitats. Central to our demographic studies is also the role of white band disease prevalence, incidence, and transmission, in relation to reproduction and community persistence and expansion. White band disease research is also advanced, aimed at developing diagnostic criteria based on field observations and histopathological examinations.

Implications for Management

NCRI's Acropora research program has made significant contributions toward the evaluation of the Broward population and its reproductive potential. Our research is committed to providing effective education and dissemination of information on methods and findings related to these investigations to the general public, students, resource managers, and scientists. Our studies have allowed for an assessment of species status, vulnerability, and resilience in the region, and established a baseline against which to compare future change. Our research has also provided means to evaluate the potential for natural population recovery in other previously impacted A. cervicornis coral reef sites, and given effective advice and recommendations to local coral reef managers regarding the status of the local A. cervicornis population, as well as for the need for its long-term monitoring.

Partners

NCRI via NOAA-CSCOR