• Is Acropora Palmata recovering? A case study in Los Roques National Park, Venezuela

      Croquer, Aldo; Cavada-Blanco, Francoise; Zubillaga, Ainhoa L.; Agudo-Adriani, Esteban A.; Sweet, Michael J.; University of Derby; Estudios Ambientales, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela; Estudios Ambientales, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela; Biología de Organismos, Universidad Simón Bolivar, Caracas, Venezuela; Estudios Ambientales, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela; et al. (2016-01-28)
      Eight years ago (2007), the distribution and status of Acropora palmata was quantified throughout Los Roques archipelago in Venezuela. The aim was to produce a baseline study for this species which combined population genetics with demographic data. The results highlighted that A. palmata had the potential to recover in at least 6 out of 10 sites surveyed. Recovery potential was assumed to be high at sites with a relatively high abundance of the coral, low disease prevalence, high genetic diversity, and high rates of sexual reproduction. However, as noted, Zubillaga et al. (2008) realized recovery was still strongly dependent on local and regional stressors. In 2014 (this study), the status of A. palmata was re-evaluated at Los Roques. We increased the number of sites from 10 in the original baseline study to 106. This allowed us to assess the population status throughout the entirety of the MPA. Furthermore, we also identified local threats that may have hindered population recovery. Here, we show that A. palmata now has a relatively restricted distribution throughout the park, only occurring in 15% of the sites surveyed. Large stands of old dead colonies were common throughout the archipelago; a result which demonstrates that this species has lost almost 50% of its original distribution over the past decades. The majority of corals recorded were large adults (∼2 m height), suggesting that these older colonies might be less susceptible or more resilient to local and global threats. However, 45% of these surviving colonies showed evidence of partial mortality and degradation of living tissues. Interestingly, the greatest increase in partial mortality occurred at sites with the lowest levels of protection (${X}_{o}^{2}=5.4> {X}_{c}^{2}=4.5$; df = 4, p < 0.05). This may suggest there is a positive role of small scale marine management in assisting reef recovery. We also recorded a significant reduction (${X}_{\mathrm{exp}}^{2}=1 2 6.8> {X}_{\mathrm{cri}}^{2}=1 5.5$; df = 8; p < 0.05) in the density of A. palmata in sites that had previously been categorized as having a high potential for recovery. One explanation for this continued decline may be due to the fact that over the past 10 years, two massive bleaching events have occurred throughout the Caribbean with records showing that Los Roques has experienced unprecedented declines in overall coral cover. We therefore conclude that although local protection could promote recovery, the impacts from global threats such as ocean warming may hamper the recovery of this threatened species.