Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is a branching, reef-building coral. Their branches are reminiscent of stag antlers, hence the name. This coral species exhibits the fastest growth of all known western Atlantic corals with branches increasing in length by 4-8 in/10-20 cm per year. Staghorn corals occur in both back reef and fore reef environments from 0-100 ft/0-30 m deep. The upper limit is defined by wave forces, and the lower limit is controlled by light availability and suspended sediment. When their environment maintains a healthy status, they can live for hundreds of years and grow together to form dense thickets, meters across.
Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) is a hard coral found in the western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. Pillar Coral is referred to as an E.D.G.E. species-Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered It is a digitate coral -that is, it resembles fingers (Latin digites) or a cluster of cigars, growing up from the substrate without any secondary branching. It is large and can grow on both flat and sloping surfaces at depths down to 20 m (65 ft). It is one of the few types of hard coral in which the polyps can commonly be seen feeding during the day.
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a large, branching coral with thick and sturdy branches resembling elk antlers. Colonies are fast-growing with branches increasing in length by 2-4 inches/5-10 cm per year and 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, with large stands forming extensive, densely aggregated fields in areas of heavy surf.
Fused Staghorn Coral
Fused staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera) is a hybrid of staghorn and elkhorn coral. It is very similar to staghorn coral in its appearance, but it forms smaller, denser clumps. Just like both its parental species, fused staghorn coral is a fast-growing branching coral with colonies reaching up to 1.2 m (4ft) in size.
Research is currently underway to see if this species has a higher thermal tolerance, which might allow it to persist in higher global temperatures.
Shelter and Structure
Staghorn, elkhorn, and star corals have been paramount in reef growth throughout the Caribbean and Tropical Western Atlantic for the past 5,000 years. They provide shelter and structure for many species of reef inhabitants and are visually stunning representatives of coral reef systems. Part of what makes the reefs so beautiful and an effective home is how corals grow in various shapes. With the dense “ears” of the elkhorn creating a canopy, the intertwining branches of the staghorn forming a thicket, and the expansive star corals giving other organisms a solid base to grow on, there is plenty of nooks for fish to find a protective home.