Sunday, January 22, 2012

Staghorn Coral

Acropora cervicornis
Today we delve into the story of the Staghorn Coral, a really cool species that is very quickly going extinct.

Staghorn Corals are named for their deer antler-like shape, and their individual branches can grow up to 2m long. They are the fastest growing of all the western Atlantic Corals, capable of adding on another 4-8in each year. Staghorn Coral has a relationship with algae, and the Coral gets most of its food from the byproducts of the algaes' photosynthesis.

Unfortunately they are a species that does not handle change very well, and  even slight variations in temperature or water salinity can damage and even kill the polyps. Hurricanes, White Band Disease, Algae overgrowth, increased predation, and human interaction has caused a 98% population decline since 1980.

Staghorn Coral is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and was placed on the United States Endangered Species List in 2006. Efforts are being made to revitalize the species, including retattaching broken branches, but the future of the Staghorn Coral is still very much in question. Not helping matters is the fact that the Coral primarily reproduces asexually. Fragments break off and then reattach elsewhere to create new Corals. While this works to repopulate after hurricanes and other natural events, it doesn't work well in cases of disease and bleaching. Lack of genetic diversity can hurt the revitalization of the species.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean
Size : Branches can grow up to 6.5ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Anthozoa -- Order : Scleractinia
Family : Acroporidae -- Genus : Acropora -- Species : A. cervicornis

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