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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 700:95-109 (2022)  -  DOI:

Combined impacts of natural recruitment and active propagation for coral population recovery on the Great Barrier Reef

Christine D. Roper1,*, Emma F. Camp1, John Edmondson2, David J. Suggett1

1Climate Change Cluster, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2007, Australia
2Wavelength Reef Cruises, 6/43 Macrossan Street, Port Douglas, QLD 4877, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Coral populations on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) are experiencing long-term shifts in size structure, including steep declines in small colonies, driving major concerns for recovery through the supply of new recruits. Whilst coral restoration began on the GBR in 2018, the combined influence of natural recruitment and outplanting for coral population recovery has not been evaluated. Here, we assessed 2 sites (Rayban and Mojo) at Opal Reef that were subject to intensive outplant efforts over a 3 yr period (2018-2021). Coral cover did not change significantly, with a baseline of 15% in 2018 and a cover of 28 and 25% in Rayban outplant and control areas, respectively, in 2021, while Mojo exhibited a coral cover of 38% in 2018 and 52% (outplant area) and 29% (control area) in 2021. Natural recruitment in 2021 did not vary by site and was characterised by a settlement rate of 5.5 and 3.7 recruits tile-1 at Rayban and Mojo, respectively. Juvenile coral abundance and diversity were similar for control and outplant areas at each site. Over the 3 yr period, coral cover as a metric did not identify differences between control and outplant areas; however, size-frequency distributions of key coral taxa revealed a higher frequency of small to mid-sized colonies in outplant communities compared to controls. Given that no differences were observed in recruitment rates or juvenile abundances, variations in population structure appear to be driven by planting efforts rather than natural recovery. Our results demonstrate the need for combined monitoring of natural versus intervention-based rehabilitation to understand the impact of coral propagation efforts for local site recovery.

KEY WORDS: Coral · Recruitment · Restoration · Outplant · Great Barrier Reef · Size-frequency · Population structure

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Cite this article as: Roper CD, Camp EF, Edmondson J, Suggett DJ (2022) Combined impacts of natural recruitment and active propagation for coral population recovery on the Great Barrier Reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 700:95-109.

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