A window to the past: Documenting the status of one of the last remaining 'megapopulations' of the threatened staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis in the Dominican Republic

D. Lirman, A. Bowden-Kerby, S. Schopmeyer, B. Huntington, T. Thyberg, M. Gough, T. Gough, R. Gough, Y. Gough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Acropora cervicornis (staghorn coral) and Acropora palmata (elkhorn coral), once common features of shallow Caribbean reefs observed growing as large stands or thickets, are now found mainly as remnant pockets or isolated colonies at a fraction of their historical areal extent. In February 2010, a large, surviving population of A. cervicornis was surveyed at Cabezos del Cayo, Punta Rusia, Dominican Republic to document its present condition and potential threats to its persistence. The A. cervicornis surveyed at Cabezos del Cayo provides a rare glimpse of the habitat structure that these keystone components of coral reefs once provided. The staghorn population covers an area of 2 ha and is formed by interlocking skeletons of unusually large and thick A. cervicornis colonies. The large size of its colonies (maximum branch length 250 cm; average linear length of live tissue 471 cm; maximum number of branch tips 141 per colony; maximum branch diameter 5 cm) and the complex open canopy of these colonies, have not been described, to our knowledge, in the recent literature. The site is within Montecristi National Park but there is no active protection in this area and signs of overfishing are evident based on low fish abundance and complete lack of fish >20 cm in length. The stressors associated with this population include significant predation by gastropods and fireworms, overgrowth by macroalgae, damselfish 'gardening' activities, and white band disease. The management priority for the staghorn population at Cabezos del Cayo, Dominican Republic, should be to enforce the legal framework that is already in place for the protection of Montecristi National Park, limiting unsustainable and damaging fishing practices, and limiting land-based sources of pollution associated with increasing population numbers and future coastal development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)773-781
Number of pages9
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2010



  • Acropora cervicornis
  • Disease
  • Dominican Republic
  • Overfishing
  • Predation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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