Fish predation hinders the success of coral restoration efforts using fragmented massive corals

Gammon Koval, Nicolas Rivas, Martine D’Alessandro, Dalton Hesley, Rolando Santos, Diego Lirman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


As coral reefs continue to decline globally, coral restoration practitioners have explored various approaches to return coral cover and diversity to decimated reefs. While branching coral species have long been the focus of restoration efforts, the recent development of the microfragmentation coral propagation technique has made it possible to incorporate massive coral species into restoration efforts. Microfragmentation (i.e., the process of cutting large donor colonies into small fragments that grow fast) has yielded promising early results. Still, best practices for outplanting fragmented corals of massive morphologies are continuing to be developed and modified to maximize survivorship. Here, we compared outplant success among four species of massive corals (Orbicella faveolata, Montastraea cavernosa, Pseudodiploria clivosa, and P. strigosa) in Southeast Florida, US. Within the first week following coral deployment, predation impacts by fish on the small (<5 cm2) outplanted colonies resulted in both the complete removal of colonies and significant tissue damage, as evidenced by bite marks. In our study, 8–27% of fragments from four species were removed by fish within one week, with removal rates slowing down over time. Of the corals that remained after one week, over 9% showed signs of fish predation. Our findings showed that predation by corallivorous fish taxa like butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae), parrotfishes (Scaridae), and damselfishes (Pomacentridae) is a major threat to coral outplants, and that susceptibility varied significantly among coral species and outplanting method. Moreover, we identify factors that reduce predation impacts such as: (1) using cement instead of glue to attach corals, (2) elevating fragments off the substrate, and (3) limiting the amount of skeleton exposed at the time of outplanting. These strategies are essential to maximizing the efficiency of outplanting techniques and enhancing the impact of reef restoration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere9978
StatePublished - Oct 2 2020


  • Coral restoration
  • Fish predation
  • Massive corals
  • Microfragmentation
  • Montastraea cavernosa
  • Orbicella faveolata
  • Pseudodiploria clivosa
  • Pseudodiploria strigosa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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