Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles



Document Type


Publication Title

Frontiers in Marine Science



Publication Date



pillar coral, stony coral tissue loss disease, bleaching, population decline, regional extinction, Dendrogyra cylindrus


Coral reefs worldwide are in a state of decline, but the population status and impacts of stressors for rare species are generally not well documented using broad-scale monitoring protocols. We fate-tracked all known colonies of the pillar coral, Dendrogyra cylindrus, on the Florida Reef Tract (FRT) from 2013 to 2020 to assess population condition and trend, and to document the relative impacts of chronic and acute stressors. Large average colony size, an absence of juveniles, and large geographic distances between genotypes suggest that the Florida D. cylindrus population has been reproductively extinct for decades. During the study period, low-intensity chronic stressors were balanced by regrowth, while back-to-back years of coral bleaching and thermally-exacerbated disease led to declines that the subsequent recovery rates suggest would require 11 uninterrupted years to overcome. The most recent stressor on Florida’s D. cylindrus population is “stony coral tissue loss disease” (SCTLD). Following the appearance of the disease in Florida in 2014, unrecoverable losses occurred within the D. cylindrus population as tissue, colonies, and whole genotypes suffered complete mortality. Losses of 94% of coral tissue, 93% of colonies, and 86% of genotypes between 2014 and the end of 2020 have led to functional extinction of D. cylindrus on the FRT.





First Page



This research was supported by Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative (State Wildlife Grants CFDA #15.634 to KL), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Marine Projects Grant Cycle award #F13AF01085 to KL), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Coral Reef Conservation Program Award #NA18NOS4820206 to KN), the National Science Foundation [Rapid Response Research grant #1503483 to Rodriguez-Lanetty at Florida International University Integrative Marine Genomics and Symbiosis (IMaGeS) lab], and significant donation of time and resources by the authors as well as by the Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation. The work was conducted under FKNMS permits FKNMS-2013-085-A1, FKNMS-2014-004-A1, and FKNMS-2016-004-A1, Dry Tortugas Permit DRTO-2015-SCI-0018, Biscayne National Park Permits BISC-2013-SCI-018 and BISC-2015-SCI-0019, and State of Florida permit SAL-13-1451-SRP.

Additional Comments

We thank scientific divers from Florida Aquarium, Keys Marine Laboratory, Florida FWC/FWRI, Florida International University, and Nova Southeastern University, particularly Kevin Macaulay, Emily Hower, and the Coral Reef Restoration, Assessment and Monitoring Lab, for assistance with fieldwork. We are additionally grateful to individuals, dive shops, and research programs that provided site locations. This is contribution number 256 from the Coastal and Oceans Division of the Institute of the Environment at Florida International University.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Peer Reviewed