Acropora Cervicornis is a stony coral with cylindrical branches in the shape of a male deer’s antlers, hence it’s more common name: the Staghorn Coral. The length of these branches can vary from a few centimiters to more than 2 meters in length and height. The Staghorn Coral is present at depths ranging from 0 to 30 meters, with the upper limit determinted by the force of the waves in the area and the lower limit depending on sediment and light availability. This species of coral exhibits the fastest growth of all western Atlantic corals, with branches growing as much as 20 centimetres per year.
The main reproduction manner of the Acropora Cervicornis is asexual fragmentation. New colonies of this coral type form from branches that break off and reattach themselves to the substrate in a different location. Sexual reproduction is also present, via the circulation of gemetes into the water annually, from August to September. The colonies themselves are simultaneous hermaphrodites (both male and female). Very few coral larvae survive to settle and form new colonies, and the predominance of asexual reproduction in the species results in very low genetic diversity.
Within a coral reef, the Staghorn Coral is present both in the back reed and the fore reef environments. On a global scale, colonies of the Acropora Cervicornis can be found in the Carribbean Sea predominantly, as well as the Atlantic Ocean and western parts of the Gulf of Mexico. Since the 1980s, Staghorn populations have been drastically reduced – by as much as 98% – as a result of an entire list of threats, including:
high salinity and temperature variations;
very low genetic diversity
An endangered species
The biggest threat to this species has been the outbreak of diseases such as the white band disease. Due to the massive reduction in population, the Staghorn Coral has been place on the endangered species list, classified as Critically Endangered – only one step away from being extinct in the wild. Although the current population appears to be overall stable, with even some cases of recovery, the threat is still very real and in some areas their numbers are still dwindeling.
Great efforts are being made to prevent the extinction of the Acropora Cervicornis, with sanctuaries and programs to re-attach coral fragments being actively developed, but only time will tell if this magnificent coral will regain it’s former glory.