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Ecological and genetic data indicate recovery of the endangered coral Acropora palmata in Los Roques, Southern Caribbean

Abstract

The rapid decline of Acropora cervicornis and Acropora palmata has often been linked with coral reef deterioration in the Caribbean; yet, it remains controversial whether these species are currently recovering or still declining. In this study, the status of ten populations of A. palmata in Los Roques National Park (LRNP), Venezuela is presented. Six of these populations showed signs of recovery. Ten 80 m2 belt-transects were surveyed at each of the ten reef sites. Within belt-transects, each colony was measured (maximum diameter and height) and its status (healthy, diseased or injured) was recorded. Populations in recovery were defined by a dominance of small to medium-sized colonies in densities >1 colony per 10 m2, together with 75% undamaged colonies, a low prevalence of diseases (<10%), and a low density of predators (0.25 snails per colony). Based on allozyme analysis of seven polymorphic loci in four populations (N = 30), a moderate to high-genetic connectivity among these populations (F ST = 0.048) was found with a predominance of sexual over asexual reproduction (N* : N = 1; N go : N = 0.93–1). Both ecological and molecular data support a good prognosis for the recovery of this species in Los Roques.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Iniciativa de Especies Amenazadas (IEA): PROVITA, Wildlife Trust, Conservación Internacional-Venezuela, Fundación Polar, and United Kingdom Embassy; Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC)-Centro Internacional de Ecología Tropical-UNESCO; and, Decanato de Postgrado and Decanato de Investigaciones Universidad Simón Bolívar for providing funds for this research. We specially thank J. P. Rodriguez for his valuable comments and disposition to critically read this manuscript. To K. Flynn, D. Lutes, M. Nugues, S. Rodríguez, D. Debrot and two reviewers who also provided comments to improve this manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. L. Zubillaga.

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Communicated by Biology Editor M. van Oppen.

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Zubillaga, A.L., Márquez, L.M., Cróquer, A. et al. Ecological and genetic data indicate recovery of the endangered coral Acropora palmata in Los Roques, Southern Caribbean. Coral Reefs 27, 63–72 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-007-0291-1

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Keywords

  • Acropora palmata
  • Population density
  • Size classes
  • Diseases
  • Sexual reproduction
  • Gene flow