Since the 1980s, diseases have caused significant declines in the population of the threatened Caribbean coral Acropora palmata. Yet it is largely unknown whether the population densities have recovered from these declines and whether there have been any recent shifts in size-frequency distributions toward large colonies. It is also unknown whether colony size influences the risk of disease infection, the most common stressor affecting this species. To address these unknowns, we examined A. palmata colonies at ten sites around St. John, US Virgin Islands, in 2004 and 2010. The prevalence of white-pox disease was highly variable among sites, ranging from 0 to 53 %, and this disease preferentially targeted large colonies. We found that colony density did not significantly change over the 6-year period, although six out of ten sites showed higher densities through time. The size-frequency distributions of coral colonies at all sites were positively skewed in both 2004 and 2010, however, most sites showed a temporal shift toward more large-sized colonies. This increase in large-sized colonies occurred despite the presence of white-pox disease, a severe bleaching event, and several storms. This study provides evidence of slow recovery of the A. palmata population around St. John despite the persistence of several stressors.
Additional publication details
Early signs of recovery of Acropora palmata in St. John, US Virgin Islands