Hurricanes Cause Population Expansion of the Branching Coral Acropora palmata (Scleractinia): Wound Healing and Growth Patterns of Asexual Recruits

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Abstract

Abstract. Three mechanisms aiding recovery and expansion of a population of Acropora palmata on a patch reef that was directly in the path of Hurricane Andrew were documented: rapid wound healing, high rates of asexual recruitment, and rapid growth rate of the new recruits. In addition, the growth pattern of new recruits was assessed in order to quantify the initial sequence of Structural changes during the transition from recruit to adult morphology. Wound healing was initially rapid (1.59 cm of linear growth per month). but slowed with time. Nine months after the storm, 72% of 218 hurricane-generated fragments of A. palmata had cemented to the bottom, becoming new asexual recruits. Within 18 months of the storm, the number of fragments in the same area had increased to 271, average fragment size was larger, and 94% had become recruits. Recruits showed complex patterns of branch formation, including rapid growth of solitary proto-branches, differential growth of proto-branches dependent on recruit orientation, and dominance within aggregates of proto-branches. We present a conceptual model that suggests A. palmata is adapted to disturbances of both low intensity and high frequency (conditions typical of reef flat zones) and episodic high intensity and low frequency events (hurricanes and tropical storms).

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