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Plasticity in skeletal characteristics of nursery-raised staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis


Staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, is a threatened species and the primary focus of western Atlantic reef restoration efforts to date. We compared linear extension, calcification rate, and skeletal density of nursery-raised A. cervicornis branches reared for 6 months either on blocks attached to substratum or hanging from PVC trees in the water column. We demonstrate that branches grown on the substratum had significantly higher skeletal density, measured using computerized tomography, and lower linear extension rates compared to water-column fragments. Calcification rates determined with buoyant weighing were not statistically different between the two grow-out methods, but did vary among coral genotypes. Whereas skeletal density and extension rates were plastic traits that depended on grow-out method, calcification rate was conserved. Our results show that the two rearing methods generate the same amount of calcium carbonate skeleton but produce colonies with different skeletal characteristics and suggest that there is genetically based variability in coral calcification performance.

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This study was funded by the US Geological Survey (USGS) Coastal and Marine Geology Program. We thank the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for permits to work with Acropora cervicornis (USGS permit under Kuffner: FKNMS-2013-024-A2 and Mote Marine Laboratory working under authorization of The Nature Conservancy permit: FKNMS-2011-150-A2). We thank J. Morrison, C. Walter, B. Reynolds, and L. Bartlett for help in the field and laboratory. We appreciate NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and Ocean Acidification Program help in funding the CT scanning equipment. We also thank I. Baums for identifying the genotypes of the nursery corals. All data in support of conclusions drawn in this manuscript are published and freely available for download in USGS data release at Any use of trade names herein was for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Correspondence to Ilsa B. Kuffner.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark Vermeij

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Kuffner, I.B., Bartels, E., Stathakopoulos, A. et al. Plasticity in skeletal characteristics of nursery-raised staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis . Coral Reefs 36, 679–684 (2017).

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  • Coral growth
  • Buoyant weight
  • Coral restoration
  • Calcification
  • Genotype effects
  • Coral nurseries