Sediment associated with algal turfs inhibits the settlement of two endangered coral species
Populations of Acropora palmata and Orbicella faveolata, two important reef-building corals, have declined precipitously across the Caribbean region since at least the 1970s. Recruitment failure may be limiting population recovery, possibly due to lack of suitable settlement habitat. Here, we examine the effects of algal turfs and algal turfs + sediment, two widely abundant substrate types across the Florida Keys, on the settlement of these two ecologically-important species. We show that sedimentsignificantly impedes coral settlement, reducing settlement 10- and 13-fold for A. palmata and O. faveolata, respectively, compared to turf algae alone. This result is corroborated by our field survey data that showed a strong, negative relationship between the abundance of turf + sediment and the abundance of juvenile corals. Turf algae alone did not reduce coral settlement. Our results suggest that sediment-laden turf algae are detrimental to settling corals, but that turf algae alone may be relatively benign.