Sexual production of corals for reef restoration in the Anthropocene
Coral-reef ecosystems are experiencing frequent and severe disturbance events that are reducing global coral abundance and potentially overwhelming the natural capacity for reefs to recover. While mitigation strategies for climate warming and other anthropogenic disturbances are implemented, coral restoration programmes are being established worldwide as an additional conservation measure to minimise coral loss and enhance coral recovery. Current restoration efforts predominantly rely on asexually produced coral fragments—a process with inherent practical constraints on the genetic diversity conserved and the spatial scale achieved. Because the resilience of coral communities has hitherto relied on regular renewal with natural recruits, the scaling-up of restoration programmes would benefit from greater use of sexually produced corals, which is an approach that is gaining momentum. Here we review the present state of knowledge of scleractinian coral sexual reproduction in the context of reef restoration, with a focus on broadcast-spawning corals. We identify key knowledge gaps and bottlenecks that currently constrain the sexual production of corals and consider the feasibility of using sexually produced corals for scaling-up restoration to the reef- and reef-system scales.