[Coral-List] Reclaiming critical habitat space for the endangered coral specie, Acropora palmata

James Davis Reimer jreimer at sci.u-ryukyu.ac.jp
Wed Dec 8 19:53:50 EST 2010

Hello all,

Regarding Jonathan's post on the removal of Palythoa caribaeorum to  
make more space for Acropora palmata, just a few comments. Bear in  
mind I am working in the Pacific, and do not have much experience in  
the Atlantic, so things may be different here. Just some of my general  

1. First of all, and I think this would be most critical, do you have  
data showing that Palythoa is actually invading/taking over A. palmata  
habitat? Here in the Pacific, the sister species P. tuberculosa  
(likely the same as P. caesia in Australia) is quite common on reef  
crests in high energy areas, and can monopolize space at some sites.  
But, we do not know if this is a normal occurrence or something new,  
and are now obtaining such baseline data. At the same time, Palythoa  
seems to be in areas of the intertidal or low infralittoral slightly  
above Acropora and most hard corals here, so I am not sure how much  
competition is occurring. I do know that traditionally there is a  
"zoanthid zone" mentioned in literature from the 1960s onwards from  
the Caribbean,  and while this likely also includes Zoanthus spp.,  
Palythoa is also abundant in this zone.
Here are some papers that may provide more information, mostly dealing  
with Brazilian coastline:
Oigman-Pszczol et al. 2010 Marine Ecology
Costa et al. 2008 South American Earth Sciences
Costa et al. 2002 Botanica Marina
Most of these papers seem to say Palythoa benefits from nutrification,  
while also stating that Palythoa is the main cnidarian species  
structuring the ecosystem at many sites.

2. How effective would removal be? I am not sure of their depth  
distribution, but here in the Pacific (most data we have is from  
Okinawa), Palythoa tuberculosa is found from the intertidal to depths  
of 30+ meters, and seems survive in most enviroments (see Reimer et  
al. 2006 Coral Reefs for small discussion on this). Removal from one  
site may temporarily reduce their cover, but if they colonies are  
present in other areas or at other depths, they will likely soon come  
back if they have some kind of advantage over A. palmata. Palythoa can  
reproduce asexually quite prolifically, and reef zoanthids in general  
are believed to be able to grow more quickly than most hard corals. At  
the same time, be aware that the zoanthids themselves harbor a  
community of organisms such as copepods and crabs, many of which are  
likely undescribed species.

I think your solution to the problem may be able to protect certain A.  
palmata stands, but how feasible would this be over a wide area? It is  
the same kind of problem likely faced by many reef managers dealing  
with changing ecological communities. It may be more effective, if  
Palythoa is benefitting from nutrification as Costa et al. say, to try  
to reduce the nutrification and runoff at certain sights, which may  
make the entire ecosystem more "healthy", instead of dealing with it  
on a species by species basis as problems appear.

Anyways, just my two yens' worth of ideas. And if possible, I would  
love to see the images you have!

cheers from Okinawa,


Message: 7
Date: Wed, 8 Dec 2010 01:58:03 -0800 (PST)
From: "Jonathan E. Brown" <jembrwn at yahoo.com>
Subject: [Coral-List] Reclaiming critical habitat space for the
	endangered	coral specie, Acropora palmata
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Message-ID: <292811.64332.qm at web50906.mail.re2.yahoo.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8

Subject: Reclaiming critical habitat space for the endangered coral  
Acropora palmata

Has habitat space limitation for the endangered coral specie, Acropora  
become a concern due to an increasing abundance of the zoanthid,
Palythoa caribaeorum?? It appears that this encrusting zoanthid likes  
high wave
energy environments and has become very abundant in St. Croix, USVI,  
to such an
extent that it is competing for habitat space essential for A.  
palmata.? I
believe this is a legitimate concern worthy of more examination. ?I have
pictures to share for those who are interested, please send an email  
request to
jembrwn at yahoo.com.
Furthermore, I have conducted a preliminary literature search via  
Google Scholar

for past efforts in active removal of the zonathid, however, it  
yielded no
relevant results. ?What are the List members? thoughts concerning  
active removal

of zoanthids? ?Would this option be feasible for sustaining critical  
space for endangered corals?
I look forward to your response.
Jonathan E. Brown
Division of Fish and Wildlife
USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources
James Davis Reimer, Ph.D.
University of the Ryukyus - Associate Professor

MISE (Molecular Invertebrate Systematics and Ecology) Lab
blog: http://mise-ryukyu.blogspot.com
homepage: http://web.me.com/miseryukyu/
Rising Star Program
Trans-disciplinary Organization for Subtropical Island Studies (TRO-SIS)
University of the Ryukyus
1 Senbaru, Nishihara, Okinawa
JAPAN 903-0213
Tel: +81-98-895-8542
Fax: +81-98-895-8576

We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
Werner von Braun

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