DOI: 10.1111/brv.12987 ISSN: 1464-7931

Coral recruitment: patterns and processes determining the dynamics of coral populations

Peter J. Edmunds
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


Coral recruitment describes the addition of new individuals to populations, and it is one of the most fundamental demographic processes contributing to population size. As many coral reefs around the world have experienced large declines in coral cover and abundance, there has been great interest in understanding the factors causing coral recruitment to vary and the conditions under which it can support community resilience. While progress in these areas is being facilitated by technological and scientific advances, one of the best tools to quantify recruitment remains the humble settlement tile, variants of which have been in use for over a century. Here I review the biology and ecology of coral recruits and the recruitment process, largely as resolved through the use of settlement tiles, by: (i) defining how the terms ‘recruit’ and ‘recruitment’ have been used, and explaining why loose terminology has impeded scientific advancement; (ii) describing how coral recruitment is measured and why settlement tiles have value for this purpose; (iii) summarizing previous efforts to review quantitative analyses of coral recruitment; (iv) describing advances from hypothesis‐driven studies in determining how refuges, seawater flow, and grazers can modulate coral recruitment; (v) reviewing the biology of small corals (i.e. recruits) to understand better how they respond to environmental conditions; and (vi) updating a quantitative compilation of coral recruitment studies extending from 1974 to present, thus revealing long‐term global declines in density of recruits, juxtaposed with apparent resilience to coral bleaching. Finally, I review future directions in the study of coral recruitment, and highlight the need to expand studies to deliver taxonomic resolution, and explain why time series of settlement tile deployments are likely to remain pivotal in quantifying coral recruitment.

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