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Quantifying life history demographics of the scleractinian coral genus Pocillopora at Palmyra Atoll

Abstract

Characterizations of colony-specific fate are necessary to predict trajectories of coral population change accurately, and a research challenge exists to collect more robust data describing coral demographic rates and the factors that influence them. Colonial, reef-building corals present challenges to the study of demography, given that the size of individual colonies can be decoupled from age, and rates of colony growth and shrinkage can be effectively indeterminate. In this study, we use a large-area imaging approach to quantify demographic rates of the coral genus Pocillopora and test for the influence of colony-specific predictors on net change in live tissue area (labeled growth and shrinkage) and whole-colony mortality. We found that a colony’s fate was linked to its initial size, with larger colonies experiencing far lower probability of mortality, but higher probability of shrinkage, than smaller colonies. Historical effects also significantly affected colony fate, as colonies with a recent history of tissue loss experienced a higher probability of subsequent shrinkage and mortality the following year. Finally, significant variability in growth and mortality rates was linked to intra-island site differences, which we hypothesize may be driven by differences in food availability and heterotrophic feeding rates. Our work highlights the importance of colony-specific characteristics, including size and historical effects, in influencing demographic fates of corals.

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Acknowledgements

This research was made possible through efforts of the 100 Island Challenge and the various organizations that have supported this project. We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Brian Zgliczynski for his assistance in fieldwork. We would also like to thank Calvin Tsang, Kyle Connor, Estefani G Zepeda, and other volunteers for their assistance with image digitization. This is Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium contribution ## PARC-XXXX. Thank-you to The Nature Conservancy and the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium for logistical support and the United States Fish Wildlife Service for special use permit # 12533-13025 and access to the refuge.

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Correspondence to Sho M. Kodera or Stuart A. Sandin.

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Kodera, S.M., Edwards, C.B., Petrovic, V. et al. Quantifying life history demographics of the scleractinian coral genus Pocillopora at Palmyra Atoll. Coral Reefs 39, 1091–1105 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-020-01940-8

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Keywords

  • Coral reefs
  • Growth
  • Large-area imagery
  • Life history
  • Pocillopora