MEPS 348:173-182 (2007)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps06962

Experimental dispersal of recovering Diadema antillarum increases grazing intensity and reduces macroalgal abundance on a coral reef

Silvia Maciá1,*, Michael P. Robinson2, Abigail Nalevanko1

1Barry University, School of Natural and Health Sciences, 11300 NE 2nd Ave., Miami Shores, Florida 33161, USA
2Department of Biology, University of Miami, PO Box 249118, Coral Gables, Florida 33124, USA

ABSTRACT: The 1983 mass mortality of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum greatly decreased grazing intensity on Caribbean reefs, contributing to widespread increases in algal abundance and exacerbating decreases in coral cover. Urchin populations have been recovering in some areas, most notably the reefs of Jamaica’s north coast. We manipulated the density of D. antillarum in the buttress zone of a previously unstudied Jamaican reef where the recovering urchins have a clumped distribution. Some buttresses have a large number of urchins while others nearby have none. We transplanted half of the urchins from high urchin density donor buttresses to low urchin density recipient buttresses. Transplantation significantly decreased the percent cover of macroalgae and increased the amount of bare space. These changes occurred despite a generally low retention of transferred urchins on recipient buttresses. Those urchins remaining on the recipient buttresses aggregated at rugose locations around which algae-free barrens appeared. Transplantation of urchins decreased their local density while maintaining overall density on the reef. The increase in algal consumption after transplantation implies that aggregated urchins compete for algae. Whereas aggregated D. antillarum tend to graze within the same area and have only a localized effect on algae, dispersed urchins compete less and eat more. Increased bare space could enhance recruitment of corals, further improving reef health. Our methods could potentially be used as an inexpensive reef restoration tool. Such restoration projects would be most effective if recipient sites with natural or artificially increased rugosity are used.


KEY WORDS: Diadema antillarum · Coral reef · Grazing · Competition · Macroalgae · Reef restoration · Rugosity · Buttress zone


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Cite this article as: Maciá S, Robinson MP, Nalevanko A (2007) Experimental dispersal of recovering Diadema antillarum increases grazing intensity and reduces macroalgal abundance on a coral reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 348:173-182. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps06962

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