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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 321:123-132 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps321123

Potential inhibitors to recovery of Acropora palmata populations in St. John, US Virgin Islands

Rikki Grober-Dunsmore1,2,3,*, Victor Bonito1, Thomas K. Frazer1

1Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Florida, 7922 NW 71st Street, Gainesville, Florida 32653, USA
2Florida Integrated Science Center, Biological Resources Division, US Geological Survey, 7920 NW 71st Street, Gainesville, Florida 32653, USA
3Present address: Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Protected Areas Center, 110 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA

ABSTRACT: Populations of Acropora palmata in the Caribbean were decimated in the 1970s and 1980s, with little apparent signs of recovery until the late 1990s. Here, we document an increase in A. palmata colonies between 2001 and 2003 at 8 of 11 monitoring sites in waters adjacent to the island of St. John, US Virgin Islands. The shallow waters along the NW coast of the island exhibited the greatest increase in colony abundance, perhaps due to greater larval supply and/or conditions that favor settlement and subsequent survivorship. Of concern, however, is the lack of survival of large colonies (at all sites), which are most frequently affected by stressors (e.g. Coralliophila abbreviata, damselfishes, active disease) and are most likely to be remnants (colonies with discontinuous, living coral-tissue over an existing coral framework). Predation by C. abbreviata and active coral disease may directly contribute to the development of these remnant colonies. In addition, we recorded damage to colonies attributed to damselfishes and raise the possibility that these territorial reef-inhabitants act as vectors in the transmission of coral disease. While the incidence of disease around St. John is generally low, it may persist as a ubiquitous, chronic stress. Finally, because stressors are more prevalent on large colonies and in high-density stands, they have the potential to inhibit the recovery of A. palmata populations to their historic condition.

KEY WORDS: Coral reefs · Elkhorn coral · Corallivorous snails · Resheeting · Recruitment

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