Fragmentation in the branching coral Acropora palmata (Lamarck): Growth, survivorship, and reproduction of colonies and fragments

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Acropora palmata, a branching coral abundant on shallow reef environments throughout the Caribbean, is susceptible to physical disturbance caused by storms. Accordingly, the survivorship and propagation of this species are tied to its capability to recover after fragmentation. Fragments of A. palmata comprised 40% of ramets within populations that had experienced recent storms. While the survivorship of A. palmata fragments was not directly related to the size of fragments, removal of fragments from areas where they settled was influenced by size. Survivorship of fragments was also affected by type of substratum; the greatest mortality (58% loss within the first month) was observed on sand, whereas fragments placed on top of live colonies of A. palmata fused to the underlying tissue and did not experience any losses. Fragments created by Hurricane Andrew on a Florida reef in August 1992 began developing new growth (proto-branches) 7 months after the storm. The number of proto-branches on fragments was dependent on size, but growth was not affected by the size of fragments. Growth-rates of proto-branches increased exponentially with time (1.7 cm year-1 for 1993-1994, 2.7 cm year-1 for 1994-1995, 4.2 cm year-1 for 1995-1996, and 6.5 cm year-1 for 1996-1997), taking over 4 years for proto-branches to achieve rates comparable to those of adult colonies on the same reef (6.9 cm year-1). In addition to the initial mortality and reduced growth-rates, fragmentation resulted in a loss of reproductive potential. Neither colonies that experienced severe fragmentation nor fragments contained gametes until 4 years after the initial damage. Although A. palmata may survive periodic fragmentation, the long-term effects of this process will depend ultimately on the balance between the benefits and costs of this process. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-57
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 23 2000


  • Asexual reproduction
  • Coral fragmentation
  • Fragment survivorship
  • Hurricanes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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