The staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis, formerly a dominant reef builder at intermediate depths along the Jamaican north coast, was devastated in 1980 by Hurricane Allen and its short-term aftereffects. Between 1982 and 1987, populations of A. cervicornis generally continued to decline at three monitored areas, approaching local extinction at one site. Feeding by the snail Coralliophila and the polychaete Hermodice carunculata, and “gardening” behavior of the damselfish Stegastes planifrons played important roles in the collapse of staghorn populations. All three consumers remained abundant seven years after the hurricane. Growth of algae following die-off of the urchin Diadema antillarum in 1983 and perhaps disease also contributed to the failure of A. cervicornis to recover. Although the timing and relative importance of these factors differed among sites, collapse of all three populations and substantial predator-associated mortality were the most striking features of these results. Threshold models of predation suggest that the hurricane increased the relative importance of predators, causing coral populations to continue to decline rather than return to their previous high densities. The generally patchy distribution of A. cervicornis in space and time throughout its range may reflect an ability to persist at either low or high densities with predators, interacting with fluctuations in density caused by extrinsic perturbations (e.g., storms, epidemic disease). Preliminary surveys provide evidence of events elsewhere in the Caribbean that are comparable to those documented for Jamaica. Sensitive coupling of unusually severe disturbance with routine biological processes may have long-term effects that limit our ability to explain local patterns of distribution, abundance and diversity in areas where this species has the potential to dominate.