Juvenile Blue Tang in Restored Acropora cervicornis

Coral Reef Restoration and Restoration Ecology

Active coral reef restoration, the process of transplanting nursery-raised coral colonies to degraded reefs, has emerged as a promising strategy to confront the global trend of declining coral cover. This approach is premised on the hypothesis that boosting foundation species’ populations will jump start coral reef ecosystem recovery. Yet, there is little information regarding the basic ecology of restored areas or the processes driving restoration success or failure on coral reefs. For example, do restored areas exhibit increased herbivory pressure that benefits coral growth? Are coral predators attracted to densely restored areas? Do these patterns change as restoration sites age?

Answers to these questions are essential to developing successful coral restoration strategies. Our work aims to understand the underlying ecological processes that drive community organization and function of degraded tropical ecosystems[ML1] . With this knowledge we can develop restoration approaches that utilize key processes to drive the recovery of degraded ecosystems. For example, our recent work has shown that transplanting corals to areas sheltering high fish biomass can promote restored coral growth, herbivory rates and decrease macroaglal cover (Shantz et al. 2015, Ecological Applications). Concurrently, we are interested in testing how basic restoration design elements such as density, arrangement and genotypic diversity can alter fundamental processes to drive recovery.