USGS scientists investigate the millennial-scale history of the "Threatened" elkhorn coral in Dry Tortugas National Park

Release Date:

Dr. Lauren Toth (Research Oceanographer, SPCMSC) and Anastasios Stathakopoulos (Oceanographer, SPCMSC) will collaborate with the National Park Service to complete a week-long expedition to Dry Tortugas National Park to study the occurrence of the elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, within the park during the Holocene.

The elkhorn coral has been responsible for building wave-breaking, shallow-reef habitats throughout the western Atlantic for hundreds of thousands of years. Despite its historical dominance throughout Florida and the rest of the western Atlantic, this species has been conspicuously absent from the known fossil record of the Dry Tortugas National Park. Recently, however, SPCMSC scientists working on the CREST project discovered extensive deposits of sub-fossil elkhorn on Pulaski Shoal in the northeast part of the park that dated to a period ~4500 to 3500 years ago. On this trip the SPCMSC researchers will conduct a thorough survey of the park to look for previously unrecognized sub-fossil A. palmata, map the extent of the outcrop, and collect additional samples for radiometric dating to better understand the history of elkhorn populations and their role in reef development in the region. Elkhorn is now listed as “Threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act so the insights gained from this study may provide valuable information for the future management and restoration of this species.