Individual study: Evaluation of the effectiveness of 3D-printed corals to attract coral reef fish at Tamarindo Reef, Culebra, Puerto Rico
Pérez-Pagán B.S. & Mercado-Molina A.E. (2018) Evaluation of the effectiveness of 3D-printed corals to attract coral reef fish at Tamarindo Reef, Culebra, Puerto Rico. Conservation Evidence, 15, 43-47
The development of artificial corals using 3D-printing technology has been proposed as an alternative to aid the recovery of fish populations in degraded reefs. However, no study has empirically evaluated the potential of such artificial corals to attract fish to reef patches. We conducted an experiment to determine whether the number of fish associated with natural and 3D-printed corals differs significantly. The 3D-printed artificial corals mimicked the morphology of staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis, whose branches serve as habitat for many fish species. There is evidence indicating that fish abundance increases with habitat complexity, but no specific evidence relating to A. cervicornis. Therefore, we also investigated whether the structural complexity of both natural and artificial corals affected their effectiveness to attract fish. We found that the number of fish associated with artificial and natural corals was not significantly different. However, irrespective of coral type, fish were more abundant in corals with the highest levels of complexity. Our findings suggest that 3D-printed corals can serve as a complementary tool to improve the ecosystem function of degraded coral reefs.