Date Written

2016

Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name

Zoo and Conservation Science-BS

Department

Biology & Earth Science

Advisor

Halard Lescinsky

First Committee Member

Dr. Halard Lescinsky

Second Committee Member

Dr. Michael A. Hoggarth

Third Committee Member

Dr. Karen Steigman

Keywords

Biology, Ecology, Coral, Belize, Reefs, Endangered

Subject Categories

Biology | Marine Biology

Abstract

Acropora cervicornis (staghorn) and Acropora palmata (elkhorn) are ecologically important corals that grow quickly and provide topography and refuges for fish and invertebrates. Historically, Acropora was the most abundant coral in shallow patch reef zones in the Caribbean. During the 1980s, white band disease eliminated most Acropora causing a loss in rugosity and an increase of macroalgae on many reefs. Although Acropora remains rare throughout most of the Caribbean, this study documents its partial comeback and possible limiting factors in Southwater Caye Marine Reserve (SWCMR), Central Belize. Patch reefs in the reserve averaged 19% live coral cover with A. palmata comprising 11% of the total, and A. cervicornis 1%. A. palmata occurred on 83% of patch reefs with only 9% of colonies having disease and only 12% of recognizable A. palmata substrate was dead. A. cervicornis occurred on 44% of patches and had 19% dead skeleton and a high incidence of fireworm predation (88% of sites) and lower impacts from predatory snails (25%) and disease (13%). There was no evidence of bleaching. These results suggest that Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis are beginning to resurge on patch reefs in the SWCMR and that their populations are not primarily limited by disease or bleaching. Colonies are healthy and their numbers are apparently limited by low recruitment and, to a lesser extent, predators. SWCMR should enforce tighter fishing restrictions to allow the fish predators of corallivorous snails and fireworms to increase in number thus promoting the spread of Acropora corals and an increase in reef rugosity and diversity.

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