Coral Reefs

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 71-81

First online:

Larval settlement preferences and post-settlement survival of the threatened Caribbean corals Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis

  • R. Ritson-WilliamsAffiliated withSmithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce
  • , Valerie J. PaulAffiliated withSmithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce Email author 
  • , S. N. ArnoldAffiliated withSchool of Marine Sciences, Darling Marine Center, University of Maine
  • , R. S. SteneckAffiliated withSchool of Marine Sciences, Darling Marine Center, University of Maine

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The settlement specificity of two threatened Caribbean corals, Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis, was tested by measuring their rates of larval metamorphosis in response to crustose coralline algae (CCA) and other substrata. In the no-choice experiments, the coral larvae were placed in six treatments: filtered seawater (FSW), a fragment of biofilmed dead skeleton of A. palmata, or a fragment of one of four species of CCA (Hydrolithon boergesenii, Porolithon pachydermum, Paragoniolithon solubile, and Titanoderma prototypum). Within each CCA treatment, there were three different substrata on which to settle and metamorphose: (1) the CCA surface, (2) the rock under the CCA, or (3) the plastic dish. The 5-day-old larvae of both A. palmata and A. cervicornis had similar rates of total metamorphosis (all substrata combined) in every treatment (excluding FSW) even in the absence of CCA. However, there were differences in larval behavior among the CCA species since the larvae settled and metamorphosed on different substrata in the presence of different CCA species. In the no-choice experiments the larvae of both corals had higher rates of metamorphosis on the top surfaces of H. boergesenii and/or T. prototypum than on P. pachydermum. In the choice experiments, the coral larvae were offered two species of CCA in the same dish. When given a choice, both species of coral larvae had more settlement and metamorphosis on the surface of H. boergesenii or T. prototypum or clean rock than onto the surface of P. solubile. After 6 weeks in the field, transplanted A. palmata recruits had approximately 15% survival on both T. prototypum and H. boergesenii, but A. cervicornis recruits only survived on T. prototypum (13%). Some, but not all, CCA species facilitated the larval settlement and post-settlement survival of these two threatened corals, highlighting the importance of benthic community composition for successful coral recruitment.


Larval ecology Settlement Metamorphosis Post-settlement survival Coralline algae Coral reefs Threatened species