Caribbean Corals Staghorn Coral

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This is mainly found in the waters near Tulum.  It is a wonderful site, and a nice change to the corals we see to the north in Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and Puerto Morelos.

Staghorn coral is a branching coral with cylindrical branches ranging from a few centimeters to over 6.5 feet (2 m) in length.

The dominant mode of reproduction for staghorn coral is asexual fragmentation, with new colonies forming when branches break off a colony and reattach to the substrate. Sexual reproduction occurs via broadcast spawning of gametes into the water column once each year in August or September. Individual colonies are both male and female (simultaneous hermaphrodites) and will release millions of  gametes.

The coral larvae (planula) live in the plankton for several days until finding a suitable area to settle, but very few larvae survive to settle and metamorphose into new colonies. The preponderance of asexual reproduction in this species raises the possibility that genetic diversity is very low in the remnant populations.
This coral exhibits the fastest growth of all known western Atlantic corals, with branches increasing in length by 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) per year.

Staghorn coral has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals in terms of its contribution to reef growth and fish habitat.

Habitat
Staghorn coral occur in back reef and fore reef environments from 0-98 feet (0 to 30 m) deep. The upper limit is defined by wave forces, and the lower limit is controlled by suspended sediments and light availability. Fore reef zones at intermediate depths of 16-82 feet (5-25 m) were formerly dominated by extensive single species stands of staghorn coral until the mid 1980s.

Population Trends

Since 1980, populations have collapsed throughout their range from various threats as detailed below; populations have declined by up to 98% throughout the range, and localized extirpations have occurred.

Threats

The greatest source of region-wide mortality for staghorn coral has been disease outbreaks, mainly of white band disease. Other, more localized losses have been caused by hurricanes, increased predation, bleaching, algae overgrowth, human impacts, and other factors. This species is also particularly susceptible to damage from sedimentation and is sensitive to temperature and salinity variation.

The large role of asexual reproduction for this species also increases the likelihood that genetic diversity in the remnant populations is very low. Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned for this species based on its demographic paramaters; specifically, how species recruitment and genetic diversity affect recovery potential.

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