Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a large, branching coral with thick and sturdy antler-like branches. Colonies are fast growing: branches increase in length by 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) per year, with colonies reaching their maximum size in approximately 10-12 years.
Elkhorn coral was formerly the dominant species in shallow water (3 ft-16 ft (1-5 m) deep) throughout the Caribbean and on the Florida Reef Tract, forming extensive, densely aggregated thickets (stands) in areas of heavy surf.
Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is a branching coral growing in back reef and fore reef environments from 0-100 feet (0 to 30m) deep. This coral exhibits the fastest growth of all known western Atlantic corals with branches increasing in length by 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) per year.
Staghorn coral occur in back reef and fore reef environments from 0-100 feet (0 to 30 m) deep. The upper limit is defined by wave forces, and the lower limit is controlled by suspended sediments and light.
Shelter and structure
Staghorn and Elkhorn corals have been one of the most important corals in terms of its contribution to reef growth throughout the Caribbean and Tropical Western Atlantic. They provide shelter and structure for many species of reef inhabitants and are visually stunning representatives of coral reef systems.
Reproduction occurs sexually in annual mass spawning events, and asexually by fractional propagation through breakage and subsequent re-growth of broken fragments. Sexual reproductive success necessitates that at least two separate genotypes of coral be present in close proximity for successful fertilization to occur. Most remaining populations of Acropora corals are small and very fragmented. Often these remnant thickets are clones of the same genetic parents, so sexual reproduction within these thickets will likely not be successful. Sexual reproduction by fragmentation is the main reproductive strategy for these two coral species, but for this method to be successful, healthy adult colonies must be present, and their broken fragments must land on a suitable substrate.