Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Marine Affairs and Policy (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Daniel O. Suman

Second Committee Member

Diego Lirman

Third Committee Member

David Letson

Fourth Committee Member

Margaret W. Miller


Acropora cervicornis, listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, is a branching coral with a complex morphology that does not readily conform to traditional metrics of colony size and percent cover. Commonly used metrics do not reflect the functional scale of this coral’s structure nor unit requirements required by the Endangered Species Act that calls for accurate and defensible metrics to quantify and monitor change in the remaining viable populations. Existing metrics for measuring branching corals are both time-consuming and variable. Therefore, the goal is to streamline and calibrate in situ measurements of A. cervicornis colonies and explore the ability to estimate arduous metrics of colony morphology from easy-to-measure attributes. It is demonstrated, based on measurements made in the upper Florida Keys, that colony volume, surface area, percent cover, and total linear extension of branching tissue can be reliably approximated from simple in situ measurements of 1) colony height, 2) maximum branch diameter, and 3) a top-down colony photo (R2 > 0.90 for all estimations). Furthermore, these relationships were consistent among natural wild colonies, as well as experimentally transplanted and nursery-reared, outplanted colonies thus indicating the robustness of the relationships between colony morphometrics in both natural and restored corals in this region. This standardized, repeatable, defensible and efficient protocol for monitoring A.cervicornis colonies capitalizes on the relationships among colony attributes documented here.


Acropora cervicornis; endangered species; monitoring; metrics; branching coral; complex morphology