Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures


Breeding Baby Unicorns: Assisted Reproduction of Pillar Coral in Florida

Event Name/Location

39th Association of Marine Labs of the Caribbean Scientific Meeting / Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Pillar coral, Dendrogyra cylindrus, Spawning, Population structure


The pillar coral population of the Florida Reef Tract has been well surveyed for its demographic and genetic population structure. Genetic analyses show great distances between distinct genets. When clonal ramets are excluded, size demographics are skewed towards large colonies with few to no juveniles. As such, it is highly likely that the species is reproductively extinct within the region. Six years of assisted reproduction in laboratory and field-based spawn collections have provided new information about the reproductive biology of the species and also yielded information on rearing strategies. Widespread hermaphroditism within genets, within ramets over multiple years, and even between regions of the same ramet have been documented. Variation in field spawning times during 2018 suggest potential for complete reproductive failure over an annual cycle. And delayed time of spawning in the lab suggests different cues for fragments removed from the field. Successful fertilization of field and laboratory-spawned gametes can be high, but settlement remains a bottleneck. Future efforts, including cryogenic sperm freezing, will continue to refine assisted reproductive efforts in order to build genetic diversity for eventual outplanting.



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