Optimizing the productivity of a coral nursery focused on staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis

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The rapid decline of the staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis throughout the Caribbean prompted the development of coral gardening as a management strategy to restore wild stocks. Given that coral gardening relies on propagating corals collected from wild donor colonies, it is imperative to optimize growth within a nursery to reduce dependence on wild collections. This study determined the maximum amount of coral that may be clipped from a colony during propagation without causing mortality or decreased growth. We applied 3 experimental treatments to 12 nursery-reared staghorn corals, in which 25, 50, or 75% of the colony's total biomass was removed and fragmented to create additional, smaller fragments. Four additional colonies served as unfragmented controls. Treatment had no effect on colony productivity, defined as the ratio of new tissue growth to initial colony size, over 87 d. Similarly, treatment had no effect on the rate at which colonies developed new branches. Results indicate that 75% of the biomass of staghorn colonies may be removed without affecting their growth. We anticipate that our observations will have practical applications for maximizing propagation of staghorn coral within nurseries throughout the wider Caribbean while minimizing the impact of this management measure on remnant wild populations.

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Endangered Species Research

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