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Reproduction

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A majority of elkhorn coral reproduction involves asexual reproduction. Branches of the coral can break off and attach to substrate. The coral animals within the branch can then colonize the new area and begin a new colony.

Elkhorn coral also reproduce sexually. Each colony contains both male and female structures, and is simultaneously hermaphroditic. Millions of male and female gametes are released into the water at the same time (usually synchronized with other adjacent colonies). This sexual reproduction occurs once a year, usually in August or September on a full moon. The coral larva, or planula, will float in the water column as plankton for several days until they land on suitable substrate. The planula then metamorphose into colonial polyps. Thus, a new colony is started.

Breeding interval: Elkhorn coral spawn once a year.

Breeding season: August to September

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; simultaneous hermaphrodite; sexual ; asexual ; fertilization (External ); broadcast (group) spawning; oviparous

Elkhorn coral exhibit no parental care.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement

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Behavior

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Although elkhorn coral polyps do not communicate with other polyps directly, they do exhibit some behaviors indicating some sort of perceptive response. For example, the release of gametes for breeding occurs with all polyps at the same time per breeding season. On a full moon in August or September, the polyps will release gametes; this is an indication of perception of light (length of day), temperature, and nightime light from the moon. The polyps also exhibit a form of tactile response in that they react to touch and release venomous nematocytes.

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile

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Conservation Status

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Populations of elkhorn coral have declined drastically since the 1980's. Estimates are in the range of 90-95% reduction in abundance since 1980 in areas where loss has been quantified. Reductions of 75-90% were observed in some areas such as the Florida keys in 1998 due to bleaching and hurricane damage. The species is listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Like all stony corals (Scleractinia) it is listed in Appendix II of CITES, so international trade is somewhat limited.

US Federal List: threatened

CITES: appendix iii

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered

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Life Cycle

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In elkhorn coral, eggs and sperm are released into the water column and fertilization occurs near the surface. After about 78 hours, larvae of planula develop cilia, giving them the appearance of “fuzzy balls.” Motility is observed at this stage. Larvae remain in surface waters during their early development aided by high lipid content. The coral larvae live in the plankton for 3 to 5 days until finding a suitable area to settle. Few larvae actually survive. Those that do, metamorphose into the polyp stage. These polyps then contribute to the development of a new colony.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis ; colonial growth

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Benefits

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Elkhorn coral offers no direct economic negativities, although is does offer a reflection of negative humans impacts. The destruction of coral reefs due to rising ocean temperatures and an runoff is causing severe economic damage in ecotourism and coastal fisheries. The anthropogenic effects on Elkhorn coral will lead to negative economic implications.

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Benefits

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The presence of elkhorn coral has several major economic implications for humans. Ecotourism in the Caribbean relies on healthy reefs, with not only healthy coral, but a healthy ecosystem full of interesting things to see such as fish and other marine animals. The pet trade, in the form of troical reef fish, is supported by healthy coral popualtions which house juvenille reef fish. Elkhorn coral also builds many reefs that are researched extensively, such as those in the Florida keys and the Caribbean.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; ecotourism ; research and education

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Associations

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Elkhorn coral is a major component of many reef ecosystems. Its physical structure provides essential refuges for reef animals, both young and adult, as well as food for many species.

Ecosystem Impact: creates habitat

Mutualist Species:

  • Zooxanthellae
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Trophic Strategy

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Elkhorn coral get much of their food energy from the algae symbionts that live in their tissues. The polyps provide the algae protection, suitable habitat, and waste products that the algae use as nutrients In return, the zooxanthellae produce surplus sugars that the polyps use as food. Elkhorn coral polyps also use their tentacles to capture small particles of detritus and also small organisms, including phytoplankton, microbes, and small zooplankton.

Animal Foods: zooplankton

Plant Foods: sap or other plant fluids; phytoplankton

Other Foods: detritus ; microbes

Primary Diet: herbivore (Eats sap or other plant foods); planktivore

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Distribution

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Elkhorn coral is present in coral reefs from southern Florida southward to the northern coasts of Venezuela. The coral has native populations throughout this range, most notably in the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Biogeographic Regions: atlantic ocean (Native )

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Habitat

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Elkhorn coral is found in shallow water, generally ranging from 1 to 5 meters deep. Elkhorn coral is a tropical species and inhabits waters with a temperature range of 66 tol 86 degrees F. This coral tolerates salinities within the normal range of 33 to 37 parts per thousand. Elkhorn coral often establishes in heavy surf close to shore, where the preferential exposed reef crests create an optimal habitat.

Range depth: 1 to 20 m.

Average depth: 3.5 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; saltwater or marine

Aquatic Biomes: reef ; coastal

Other Habitat Features: intertidal or littoral

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Life Expectancy

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Elkhorn coral reaches its maximum size at 10 to 12 years old. Elkhorn coral’s branches can increase in length as fast as 2-4 inches per year. While a colony can persist for centuries, individual coral polyps usually live for 2 to 3 years.

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Morphology

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Elkhorn coral maintains a relatively large coral body. Elkhorn coral was named after its branching pattern, which is remnant of an elk’s antlers. These antler-like branches are sturdy and thick. The color of the coral, due to the symbiotic zooanthellae, ranges from yellow to a yellowish-brown.

Average length: .75 m.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; radial symmetry

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Associations

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Elkhorn coral rely on their excreted coral bodies to retract into and hide from predators. These predators include many species of damselfish (Pomacentridae), which suck and pluck the coral polyps out of the coral body. Fireworms (such as Hermodice carunculata) and corallivorous snail species in the family Coralliophilidae range over the coral colony grazing on polyps.

Known Predators:

  • a fireworm Hermodice carunculata
  • coralliophilid snails Coralliophilidae
  • damselfishes Pomacentridae
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Brief Summary

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Acropora palmata, or Elkhorn Coral, is considered to be one of the most important reef-building corals in the Caribbean. This species of coral is structurally complex with many large branches that resemble elk antlers and create habitats for many other reef species. Elkhorn coral colonies are fast growing. The color, which ranges from brown to a yellowish-brown, is a result of the symbiotic zooxanthellae that live inside the tissue of this coral species.

Brief Summary

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Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a large, branching coral with thick and sturdy antler-like branches. It is a member of the Acropora genus, the most abundant and species-rich group of corals in the world. Colonies of Elkhorn coral are fast growing - branches increase in length by 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) per year, with colonies reaching their maximum size in approximately 10-12 years. Over the last 10,000 years, elkhorn coral has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals contributing to reef growth and development, as well as providing essential fish and marine invertebrate habitat. While once the most abundant stony coral on shallow reef crests and fore-reefs of the Caribbean and Florida reef tract, by the early 1990s elkhorn coral had experienced widespread losses through its range. Multiple factors are thought to have contributed to coral declines, including impacts from hurricanes, coral disease, mass coral bleaching, climate change, coastal pollution, overfishing, and damage from boaters and divers. In 2006, elkhorn coral and a close relative, staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) were listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act.

One Species at a Time

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Coral reefs are bustling cities of marine life, until rising ocean temperatures turn them into ghost towns. Can reefs spring back from devastating bleaching events? Ari Daniel Shapiro and researcher Dr.Randi Rotjan of the New England Aquarium, journey to the remote Phoenix Islands to find out. Listen to the podcast, meet the featured scientist, see images of coral reef research in the Phoenix Islands and find relevant educational resources on the EOL Learning + Education website.
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Associations

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"Elkhorn coral, like many corals, receive most of their energy and oxygen from symbiotic organisms called zooxanthellae." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Distribution

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"Elkhorn coral is found on coral reefs in southern Florida, the Bahamas, and throughout the Caribbean. Its northern limit is Biscayne National Park, Florida, and it extends south to Venezuela; it is not found in Bermuda. Once found in continuous stands that extended along the front side of most coral reefs, the characteristic "Acropora palmata zone" supported a diverse assemblage of other invertebrates and fish. These zones have been largely transformed into rubble fields with few, isolated living colonies." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Ecology

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"Over the last 10,000 years, elkhorn coral has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals contributing to reef growth and development and providing essential fish habitat." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Habitat

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"Elkhorn coral was formerly the dominant species in shallow water (3 ft-16 ft (1-5 m) deep) throughout the Caribbean and on the Florida Reef Tract, forming extensive, densely aggregated thickets (stands) in areas of heavy surf. Coral colonies prefer exposed reef crest and fore reef environments in depths of less than 20 feet (6 m), although isolated corals may occur to 65 feet (20 m)." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Legislation

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"NMFS finalized the ESA listing of elkhorn and staghorn coral on May 4, 2006 (71 FR 26852). NMFS designated critical habitat for elkhorn and staghorn corals in November 2008." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Life Expectancy

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"Like counting rings in the trunk of a tree, the age of corals can be determined by examining coral growth rings." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Management

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"Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), the largest coral reef management entity in the region, has developed a management plan for the Sanctuary's corals that includes protective activities, such as zoning, channel markings, and restoration efforts.

Restoration activities have included efforts to re-attach Acropora fragments generated by ship groundings and hurricane events; these efforts have had mixed success. Similar efforts to re-attach coral fragments have also been made in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Other restoration efforts have included attempts to culture and settle coral larvae with very limited success. New techniques for restoring Acropora are currently being pursued. Such new techniques involve enhancing sexual recruitment, reestablishing ecological roles within reef systems (e.g. herbivorous urchins), and other methods for controlling predators and disease.

In 1998, the United States Coral Reef Task Force was established by Presidential Executive Order 13089 to coordinate and strengthen efforts for protecting coral reef ecosystems. The Task Force is co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and Interior, and includes leaders of 12 federal agencies, seven U.S. states and territories, and three freely associated states. In 2002, the Task Force adopted a resolution calling for the development of Local Action Strategies, which are locally-driven plans for collaborative and cooperative action among federal, state, territory, and non-governmental partners to reduce key threats on valuable coral reef resources. Three Local Action Strategies have been developed within the range of elkhorn coral for Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These strategies are underway and will be implemented over a three-year period (FY2005-2007)."

(NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Reproduction

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"The coral larvae (planula) live in the plankton for several days until finding a suitable area to settle, but very few larvae survive to settle and metamorphose into new colonies. The preponderance of asexual reproduction in this species raises the possibility that genetic diversity may be very low in the remnant populations." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Threats

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"The dominant mode of reproduction for elkhorn coral is asexual fragmentation; this life history trait allows rapid population recovery from physical disturbances such as storms. However, this mode of reproduction makes recovery from disease or bleaching episodes (in which entire colonies or even entire stands are killed) very difficult. The large role of asexual reproduction for this species increases the likelihood that genetic diversity in the remnant populations may be very low. Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned for this species based on its demographic paramaters; specifically, how species recruitment and genetic diversity affect recovery potential." (NOAA Fisheries OPR)

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Elkhorn coral

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Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a prominent Caribbean reef-building coral,[2] although as of the 2010s populations were still recovering from white band disease outbreak.[3] This species is structurally complex with many large branches. The coral structure resembles that of elk antlers. These branches create habitats for many other reef species, such as lobsters, parrot-fish, snapper shrimps and other reef fish. Elkhorn coral colonies are incredibly fast-growing, with an average growth rate of 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) per year and can eventually grow up to 3.7 m (12 ft) in diameter.[4] The color of this coral species ranges from brown to a yellowish-brown as a result of the symbiotic zooxanthellae living inside the tissue of this coral species. Zooxanthellae are a type of algae which photosynthesize to provide the coral with nutrients. The zooxanthellae are also capable of removing waste products from the coral.

The majority of elkhorn coral reproduction has occurred asexually; this occurs when a branch of the coral breaks off and attaches to the substrate, forming a new colony, known as fragmentation. The degree to which local stands reproduce by fragmentation varies across the Caribbean, but on average, 50% of colonies are the result of fragmentation rather than sexual reproduction.[5] Sexual reproduction occurs once a year in August or September when coral colonies release millions of gametes by broadcast spawning.

Distribution

Elkhorn coral exist in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Florida Keys. Its range reaches as far north as Biscayne National Park, Florida, and as far south as Curaçao and Venezuela. In the 1990s and 2000s elkhorn coral has been recorded growing along the southern Florida peninsula and into the northern parts of the Gulf of Mexico, it is possible that the range has expanded northward, and it is possible that this may be the result of climate change.[6]

Elkhorn corals are found primarily in shallow waters with temperatures between 26 and 30 °C (79 and 86 °F), and with significant water movement. They are one of the most abundant species in waters ranging from 1 to 5 m (3.3 to 16.4 ft) deep, and a few colonies have been reported from waters as deep as 20 m (66 ft) (e.g. Navassa Island).

Population

 src=
Acropora palmata afflicted with white pox disease, Molasses Reef, Florida Keys, in March 2008

Elkhorn coral was once one of the most abundant species of coral in the Caribbean. In the 1970s to the early 1980s an estimated 96% of the elkhorn coral was lost primarily due to storms and disease.[7][8] Factors contributing to the population loss have included disease (coral bleaching), predation, algae growth, storm damage and human activity. All of these factors may together create a synergistic effect that hampers the survival and reproductive success of elkhorn coral. As of 2006 there are some signs of recovery in some areas.[7]

Diseases that affect elkhorn coral include white pox disease,[9] white band disease,[8] and black band disease.

White pox disease, which only affects elkhorn coral, is caused by a bacterium, Serratia marcescens. The disease is contagious and commonly moves from one colony to its nearest neighbor. White pox creates white lesions on the coral skeleton and results in an average tissue loss of 2.5 cm2 (0.39 in2) per day, but can cause as much tissue loss as 10.5 cm2 (1.63 in2) per day.[10] White band disease[8] and black band disease have also greatly reduced the abundance of elkhorn coral. Diseases are one of the major causes of coral mortality, however, they are not well understood.

Predators of elkhorn coral include coral-eating snails (Coralliophila abbreviata), polychaetes such as the bearded fireworm, and damselfish.[7] Another is Lang’s boring sponge, Cliona langae.[11] Predation by these organisms reduces the corals' growth and ability to reproduce. Predation can eventually lead to the death of the coral colony.[7]

Conservation

Several efforts to conserve the elkhorn coral have had mixed results. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has served as a protected region for the area’s coral species, and has also developed plans for the protection and restoration of elkhorn coral. Restoration efforts have included attempts to reattach coral fragments that were broken off during hurricanes or by ships. Attempts to reattach coral fragments have also occurred in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but all have had limited success.

Attempts are also being made to conserve the coral by culturing coral fragments. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and Mote Marine Laboratory all are having limited success with coral nurseries in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has developed and tested several ecological methods to restore this coral, including removing coral predators and reintroducing herbivores to the ecosystems to feed on harmful algae that grow on the coral.

In 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity requested the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to place elkhorn coral on the endangered species list. In 2005, NMFS decided elkhorn coral qualified as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. On May 4, 2006, elkhorn coral and staghorn coral (A. cervicornis) were officially placed on the Endangered Species List.

References

  1. ^ WoRMS (2010). "Acropora palmata (Lamarck, 1816)". WoRMS. World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved 2011-12-09.
  2. ^ Pandolfi, J. (2002). "Coral community dynamics at multiple scales". Coral Reefs. 21 (1): 13–23. doi:10.1007/s00338-001-0204-7. ISSN 0722-4028.
  3. ^ Aronson, Richard B.; Precht, William F. (2013). "White-band disease and the changing face of Caribbean coral reefs". In Porter, James W. (ed.). The Ecology and Etiology of Newly Emerging Marine Diseases. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 25–38. ISBN 9789401732840.
  4. ^ Gladfelter, Elizabeth H.; Monahan, Rosemary K.; Gladfelter, William B. (Oct 1978). "Growth Rates of Five Reef-Building Corals in the Northeastern Caribbean" (PDF). Bulletin of Marine Science. 28 (4): 728–734.
  5. ^ Baums, I. B.; Miller MW; Hellberg ME (2006). "Geographic variation in clonal structure in a reef building Caribbean coral, Acropora palmata". Ecological Monographs. 76 (4): 503–519. doi:10.1890/0012-9615(2006)076[0503:GVICSI]2.0.CO;2.
  6. ^ Precht, William F.; Richard B. Aronson (Aug 2004). "Climate flickers and range shifts of reef corals". Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 6 (2): 307–314. doi:10.2307/3868406. JSTOR 3868406.
  7. ^ a b c d Grober-Dunsmore, Rikki; Victor Bonito; Thomas K. Frazer (Sep 8, 2006). "Potential inhibitors to recovery of Acropora palmata in populations in St. John, US Virgin Islands" (PDF). Marine Ecology Progress Series. 321: 123–132. doi:10.3354/meps321123.
  8. ^ a b c Gladfelter, William B. (1982). "White-band disease in Acropora palmata: implications for the structure and growth of shallow reefs". Bulletin of Marine Science. 32 (2): 639–643.
  9. ^ Mayor, Philippe A.; Caroline S. Rogers; Zandy M. Hillis-Starr (Mar 7, 2006). "Distribution and abundance of elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, and prevalence of white-band disease at Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands". Coral Reefs. 25 (2): 239–242. doi:10.1007/s00338-006-0093-x.
  10. ^ Patterson, Kathryn; James W. Porter; Kim B. Ritche; Shawn W. Polson; Erich Mueller; Esther C. Peters; Deborah L. Santavy; Garriet W. Smith (June 19, 2002). "The etiology of white pox, a lethal disease of the Caribbean elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata". PNAS. 99 (13): 8725–8730. doi:10.1073/pnas.092260099. PMC 124366. PMID 12077296.
  11. ^ Willams, Jr., Ernest H.; Paul J. Baterls; Lucy Bunkley-Williams (Dec 1999). "Predicted disappearance of coral-reef ramparts: a direct result of major ecological disturbances". Global Change Biology. 5 (8): 839–845. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2486.1999.00272.x.

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Elkhorn coral: Brief Summary

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Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a prominent Caribbean reef-building coral, although as of the 2010s populations were still recovering from white band disease outbreak. This species is structurally complex with many large branches. The coral structure resembles that of elk antlers. These branches create habitats for many other reef species, such as lobsters, parrot-fish, snapper shrimps and other reef fish. Elkhorn coral colonies are incredibly fast-growing, with an average growth rate of 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) per year and can eventually grow up to 3.7 m (12 ft) in diameter. The color of this coral species ranges from brown to a yellowish-brown as a result of the symbiotic zooxanthellae living inside the tissue of this coral species. Zooxanthellae are a type of algae which photosynthesize to provide the coral with nutrients. The zooxanthellae are also capable of removing waste products from the coral.

The majority of elkhorn coral reproduction has occurred asexually; this occurs when a branch of the coral breaks off and attaches to the substrate, forming a new colony, known as fragmentation. The degree to which local stands reproduce by fragmentation varies across the Caribbean, but on average, 50% of colonies are the result of fragmentation rather than sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction occurs once a year in August or September when coral colonies release millions of gametes by broadcast spawning.

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Biology

provided by World Register of Marine Species
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bibliographic citation
van der Land, J. (ed). (2008). UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms (URMO).
Contributor
Jacob van der Land [email]