Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Marine Biology and Fisheries (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Diego Lirman

Second Committee Member

Andrew Baker

Third Committee Member

Nelson Ehrhardt

Fourth Committee Member

Derek Manzello

Fifth Committee Member

Marjorie Oleksiak


The staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, is an important reef-building species on Caribbean reefs that has undergone severe population declines in recent decades. As the abundance of this species has diminished, restoration efforts using the coral gardening method have become increasingly common as a method of mitigating these losses. Using a large scale outplanting experiment, we find evidence of high phenotypic plasticity and low local adaptation driven by coral genotype and the environment, which subtly interact. The flexibility of the growth and survivorship response in this species gives concrete value to genetic diversity, which is variable across regional spatial scales and concentrated on individual reefs, indicating that restoration resources can accurately recreate wild assemblages. These wild reefs are also sometimes composed of thickets, which may be important for the persistence of this species. Thickets, which are not genetically distinct, can also be constructed from nursery resources by taking advantage of the combination of sexual and asexual reproduction apparent in this species. Sexual reproduction is also critical for species recovery, but this process appears to be decoupled form genetic patterns, suggesting that sexual reproduction on modern reefs is not contributing strongly to demographics. These analyses form a cohesive unit investigating the actual and potential response of one of the Caribbean’s most important species over various time scales, integrating growth, reproductive patterns and population dynamics.


Acropora cervicornis; restoration; population structure; thickets; genomics; ecological flexibility