Skip to main content

Data from: Survivorship and growth in staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) outplanting projects in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Cite this dataset

Miller, Steven L (2020). Data from: Survivorship and growth in staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) outplanting projects in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary [Dataset]. Dryad.


Significant population declines in Acropora cervicornis and A. palmata began in the 1970s and now exceed over 90%. The losses were caused by a combination of coral disease and bleaching, with possible contributions from other stressors, including pollution and predation. Reproduction in the wild by fragment regeneration and sexual recruitment is inadequate to offset population declines. Starting in 2007, the Coral Restoration Foundation™ evaluated the feasibility of outplanting A. cervicornis colonies to reefs in the Florida Keys to restore populations at sites where the species was previously abundant. Reported here are the results of 20 coral outplanting projects with each project defined as a cohort of colonies outplanted at the same time and location. Photogrammetric analysis and in situ monitoring (2007 to 2015) measured survivorship, growth, and condition of 2419 colonies. Survivorship was initially high but generally decreased after two years. Survivorship among projects based on colony counts ranged from 4% to 89% for seven cohorts monitored at least five years. Weibull survival models were used to estimate survivorship beyond the duration of the projects and ranged from approximately 0% to over 35% after five years and 0% to 10% after seven years. Growth rate averaged 10 cm/year during the first two years then plateaued in subsequent years. After four years, approximately one-third of surviving colonies were ≥ 50 cm in maximum diameter. Projects used three to sixteen different genotypes and significant differences did not occur in survivorship, condition, or growth. Restoration times for three reefs were calculated based on NOAA Recovery Plan (NRP) metrics (colony abundance and size) and the findings from projects reported here. Results support NRP conclusions that reducing stressors is required before significant population growth and recovery will occur. Until then, outplanting protects against local extinction and helps to maintain genetic diversity in the wild.


Survivorship (the percentage of colonies with any living tissue in a cohort) and condition (percentage of living tissue to the nearest 5%) [76] were obtained from the photographs using CANVAS software [77] and in situ using SCUBA. Weibull survival analysis models (using the statistical software package JMP, version 12 SAS) were used to project survivorship beyond the length of the studies [78]. Percent live tissue was analyzed in addition to survivorship because the survivorship metric is binary (dead =0; alive=1), while partial mortality is a continuous variable (0% to 100%) that impacts survivorship.

The maximum skeletal diameter of colonies was measured using scale references in the photographs that included identifier tags (indicating genotype) of known sizes or PVC bars, or by direct measurements underwater using SCUBA. Growth was estimated using Gompertz growth functions. Due to gaps in the photographic record and reduced sample sizes, colonies that survived four years or longer were combined into a single group. Size measurements were not normally distributed, based on Wilks tests; therefore, log transformation was performed to better approximate a normal distribution. Statistical analyses using generalized linear models were performed using log-transformed data in R [79], including analyses to determine whether or not there were genotype effects on survivorship, condition and growth.

The time (years) and effort (the number of outplanted colonies) required to restore Carysfort Reef, Molasses Reef, and Conch Reef (Fig 1) were estimated using results from this study and metrics in the NRP. Specifically, reef areas delineated by GIS were divided by survivorship estimates after four years for cohorts that started with 1050 colonies. Based on the NRP abundance and size metrics, each surviving colony that reaches ≥ 50 cm maximum diameter restores 1 m2 of the reef. Two depth ranges were used to calculate restoration areas for the three reefs: 5 to 10 m approximates the historical distribution of the species in the Caribbean and Florida [2, 80] and 5 to 20 m water depth as identified in the NRP. The three reefs are management zones in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, with boundaries that constrained the area estimates. Areas were delineated in GIS using a two-step geoprocessing intersect procedure. First, the Florida Keys 100 m grid cell habitat layer [17, 81] was clipped using the FKNMS management-zone layer. Then, the resulting habitats-within-zones layer was overlaid with the South Florida water depth layer. The final clipped and intersected layer contained polygons annotated with zone, habitat, and depth information.

Usage notes


Florida Keys