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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 408:55-64 (2010)  -  DOI:

Early post-settlement mortality and the structure of coral assemblages

Lucie Penin1,2,3,*, François Michonneau1,4, Andrew H. Baird3, Sean R. Connolly3,5, Morgan S. Pratchett3, Mohsen Kayal1,2, Mehdi Adjeroud1,6

1UMR CNRS-EPHE-UPVD 5244 Biologie et Écologie Tropicale et Méditerranéenne, Université de Perpignan, 66860 Perpignan Cedex, France
2USR CNRS-EPHE 3278, CRIOBE, Université de Perpignan, BP 1013 Moorea, French Polynesia
3ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, 4811 Queensland, Australia
4Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-7800, USA
5School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, 4811 Queensland, Australia
6Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, U 227 COREUS 2, CBETM, Université de Perpignan Via Domitia, 66860 Perpignan Cedex, France

ABSTRACT: Events occurring early in life history can have profound effects on the structure of populations and communities. In particular, susceptibility to predation is often highest early in life, and can greatly influence community structure. To better understand these events in reef-forming coral communities, we investigated how spatial variation in recruitment and early post-settlement predation influenced the spatial structure of a coral assemblage. Over a 5 yr period, we compared recruitment of corals and abundance of juveniles and adults at a combination of 3 locations and 3 depths in French Polynesia. We then measured mortality of recruits (<3 mo old) and juveniles (about 1 to 4 yr old), and abundance of potential predators. Results demonstrate the crucial role of events occurring in the first weeks of the benthic stage. The abundance of scraping herbivorous parrotfishes explained substantial spatial variation in the mortality of recruits, but not juveniles, revealing a likely effect of incidental removal by grazing. Conversely, abundance of coral-feeding butterflyfishes explained substantial spatial variation in the mortality of juveniles. These findings underscore the importance of incidental mortality from grazing and specialized corallivory on coral populations. Moreover, these processes can play a key role in determining spatial patterns in coral assemblage structure.

KEY WORDS: Scleractinian corals · Recruitment · Predation · Grazing · Population structure · Coral reefs · Early life-history traits · Moorea · French Polynesia

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Cite this article as: Penin L, Michonneau F, Baird AH, Connolly SR, Pratchett MS, Kayal M, Adjeroud M (2010) Early post-settlement mortality and the structure of coral assemblages. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 408:55-64.

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