Reef restoration programs in Florida, US, focused initially on Acropora, but there is now a need to include other species that have also experienced declines. An outplanting experiment using Acropora cervicornis, Montastraea cavernosa, and Orbicella faveolata was conducted to compare performance among species and evaluate the impacts of contact interactions with macroalgae and the zoanthid Palythoa caribaeorum. Montastraea cavernosa and O. faveolata showed high survivorship (78% and 92%, respectively) over 18 mo. However, surviving colonies had limited growth and lost tissue due to factors like predation and disease. In contrast, A. cervicornis showed exponential growth. Colonies in contact with macroalgae showed the lowest survivorship. Removing macroalgae provided no long-term benefits in growth and a slight improvement in colony survivorship. Acropora cervicornis in contact with Palythoa grew 45% less than controls. Our study showed that: (1) coral taxa with massive morphologies (40-130 cm2) can be transplanted with low colony mortality but that their slow growth is not enough to balance partial tissue mortality caused by multiple chronic stressors; (2) removal of macroalgae at the time of outplanting improves colony survivorship; (3) periodic removal of macroalgae does not enhance growth; and (4) contact with Palythoa should be avoided. The impacts of contact competition were variable among species with different colony morphologies, with A. cervicornis showing the highest susceptibility to competition from algae and Palythoa. While restoration can rapidly increase coral abundance, long-term success will require a multifaceted approach to reduce the impacts of chronic reef stressors on wild and outplanted corals alike.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science