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Regional restoration benchmarks for Acropora cervicornis

Abstract

Coral gardening plays an important role in the recovery of depleted populations of threatened Acropora cervicornis in the Caribbean. Over the past decade, high survival coupled with fast growth of in situ nursery corals have allowed practitioners to create healthy and genotypically diverse nursery stocks. Currently, thousands of corals are propagated and outplanted onto degraded reefs on a yearly basis, representing a substantial increase in the abundance, biomass, and overall footprint of A. cervicornis. Here, we combined an extensive dataset collected by restoration practitioners to document early (1–2 yr) restoration success metrics in Florida and Puerto Rico, USA. By reporting region-specific data on the impacts of fragment collection on donor colonies, survivorship and productivity of nursery corals, and survivorship and productivity of outplanted corals during normal conditions, we provide the basis for a stop-light indicator framework for new or existing restoration programs to evaluate their performance. We show that current restoration methods are very effective, that no excess damage is caused to donor colonies, and that once outplanted, corals behave just as wild colonies. We also provide science-based benchmarks that can be used by programs to evaluate successes and challenges of their efforts, and to make modifications where needed. We propose that up to 10% of the biomass can be collected from healthy, large A. cervicornis donor colonies for nursery propagation. We also propose the following benchmarks for the first year of activities for A. cervicornis restoration: (1) >75% live tissue cover on donor colonies; (2) >80% survivorship of nursery corals; and (3) >70% survivorship of outplanted corals. Finally, we report productivity means of 4.4 cm yr−1 for nursery corals and 4.8 cm yr−1 for outplants as a frame of reference for ranking performance within programs. Such benchmarks, and potential subsequent adaptive actions, are needed to fully assess the long-term success of coral restoration and species recovery programs.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the many divers who assisted with nursery maintenance, coral outplanting, and data collection for this manuscript, especially: MIA: C. Drury, R. Santos, B. Huntington, R. Gomez, R. Christian, B. Teare, C. Hill, D. Vita, J. Cole, M. Coogan, L. Harmen, M. McKinney; BC: B. Bliss, A. Brownlee, S. Bush, K. Correia, K, Cucinotta, N. D’Antonio, P. Espitia, D. Fahy, A. Halperin, L. Kabay, M. Lopez Padierna, Z. Ostroff, J. Stein, C. Walton; MK: W. Sharp, J. Hunt, J. Snook, J. Hornbeck, W. Crowder, N. Corby, K. Erickson, B. Reckenbeil, E. Hart; LK: S. Hammett, K. Correia; TNC: J. Bailey, T. Ziegler; and PR: T. Moore, M. Nemeth, H. Ruiz, P. Rodriguez. We also appreciate the insight and advice of C. Drury and S. Miller. Research activities were funded by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Award #NA09NFF4630332).

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Correspondence to Stephanie A. Schopmeyer.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark J.A. Vermeij

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Schopmeyer, S.A., Lirman, D., Bartels, E. et al. Regional restoration benchmarks for Acropora cervicornis . Coral Reefs 36, 1047–1057 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1596-3

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Keywords

  • Acropora cervicornis
  • Restoration
  • Species recovery
  • Survival
  • Productivity
  • Growth