Removal of corallivorous snails as a proactive tool for the conservation of acroporid corals

PeerJ. 2014 Nov 27;2:e680. doi: 10.7717/peerj.680. eCollection 2014.


Corallivorous snail feeding is a common source of tissue loss for the threatened coral, Acropora palmata, accounting for roughly one-quarter of tissue loss in monitored study plots over seven years. In contrast with larger threats such as bleaching, disease, or storms, corallivory by Coralliophila abbreviata is one of the few direct sources of partial mortality that may be locally managed. We conducted a field experiment to explore the effectiveness and feasibility of snail removal. Long-term monitoring plots on six reefs in the upper Florida Keys were assigned to one of three removal treatments: (1) removal from A. palmata only, (2) removal from all host coral species, or (3) no-removal controls. During the initial removal in June 2011, 436 snails were removed from twelve 150 m(2) plots. Snails were removed three additional times during a seven month "removal phase", then counted at five surveys over the next 19 months to track recolonization. At the conclusion, snails were collected, measured and sexed. Before-After-Control-Impact analysis revealed that both snail abundance and feeding scar prevalence were reduced in removal treatments compared to the control, but there was no difference between removal treatments. Recolonization by snails to baseline abundance is estimated to be 3.7 years and did not differ between removal treatments. Recolonization rate was significantly correlated with baseline snail abundance. Maximum snail size decreased from 47.0 mm to 34.6 mm in the removal treatments. The effort required to remove snails from A. palmata was 30 diver minutes per 150 m(2) plot, compared with 51 min to remove snails from all host corals. Since there was no additional benefit observed with removing snails from all host species, removals can be more efficiently focused on only A. palmata colonies and in areas where C. abbreviata abundance is high, to effectively conserve A. palmata in targeted areas.

Keywords: Acropora palmata; Coralliophila abbreviata; Elkhorn; Florida; Predator.

Grant support

This project was made possible by support from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and NMFS Southeast Regional Office, Protected Resources Division. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.