Considerations for maximizing the adaptive potential of restored coral populations in the western Atlantic

Last modified: 
December 13, 2019 - 12:38pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2019
Date published: 07/2019
Authors: Iliana Baums, Andrew Baker, Sarah Davies, Andréa Grottoli, Carly Kenkel, Sheila Kitchen, Ilsa Kuffner, Todd LaJeunesse, Mikhail Matz, Margaret Miller, John Parkinson, Andrew Shantz
Journal title: Ecological Applications
ISSN: 1051-0761

Active coral restoration typically involves two interventions: crossing gametes to facilitate sexual larval propagation; and fragmenting, growing, and outplanting adult colonies to enhance asexual propagation. From an evolutionary perspective, the goal of these efforts is to establish self‐sustaining, sexually reproducing coral populations that have sufficient genetic and phenotypic variation to adapt to changing environments. Here, we provide concrete guidelines to help restoration practitioners meet this goal for most Caribbean species of interest. To enable the persistence of coral populations exposed to severe selection pressure from many stressors, a mixed provenance strategy is suggested: genetically unique colonies (genets) should be sourced both locally as well as from more distant, environmentally distinct sites. Sourcing 3‐4 genets per reef along environmental gradients should be sufficient to capture a majority of intraspecies genetic diversity. It is best for practitioners to propagate genets with one or more phenotypic traits that are predicted to be valuable in the future, such as low partial mortality, high would healing rate, high skeletal growth rate, bleaching resilience, infectious disease resilience, and high sexual reproductive output. Some effort should also be reserved for underperforming genets because colonies that grow poorly in nurseries sometimes thrive once returned to the reef and may harbor genetic variants with as yet unrecognized value. Outplants should be clustered in groups of 4‐6 genets to enable successful fertilization upon maturation. Current evidence indicates that translocating genets among distant reefs is unlikely to be problematic from a population genetic perspective but will likely provide substantial adaptive benefits. Similarly, inbreeding depression is not a concern given that current practices only raise first‐generation offspring. Thus, proceeding with the proposed management strategies even in the absence of a detailed population genetic analysis of the focal species at sites targeted for restoration is the best course of action. These basic guidelines should help maximize the adaptive potential of reef‐building corals facing a rapidly changing environment.

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