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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 421:109-115 (2011)  -  DOI:

Macroalgae reduce growth of juvenile corals but protect them from parrotfish damage

D. E. Venera-Ponton1,4,*, G. Diaz-Pulido2, L. J. McCook3, A. Rangel-Campo4

1Department of Biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, PO Box 42451, Lafayette, Louisiana 70504-2451, USA
2Griffith School of Environment and Australian Rivers Institute—Coast and Estuaries, and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Griffith University, Nathan, Brisbane, Queensland 4111, Australia
3Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Pew Fellowships Program in Marine Conservation, PO Box 1379, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
4Instituto de Investigaciones Tropicales, Universidad del Magdalena, Carrera 32 # 22-08, Santa Marta, Colombia

ABSTRACT: Inhibition of early life stages of corals by benthic algae is a critical bottleneck to the recovery and resilience of corals. Increasingly frequent and severe disturbances are causing large-scale coral mortality, usually followed by colonisation and dominance by benthic algae. The capacity of corals to re-establish in such algal-dominated habitats will depend on the effects of the algae on growth and survivorship of juvenile corals. We experimentally evaluated the competition between juvenile corals Porites astreoides and algae and the effects of algae on the exposure of juvenile corals to damage by parrotfishes (family Scaridae) in a Colombian Caribbean reef. We also explored whether those effects were consistent among climatic seasons (upwelling and non-upwelling). Benthic algae had negative and positive effects on the juvenile corals. The removal of algal turfs and fleshy macroalgae enhanced coral growth. Unexpectedly, removal of algae from around the juvenile corals increased predation upon the corals by parrotfishes. When algae were removed, at least 50% of the corals were grazed by parrotfishes, but no bites were observed on corals with intact algae. Coral growth and parrotfish damage were not affected by season. However, damage by parrotfishes neither lessened survivorship nor resulted in negative growth for any of the grazed coral colonies. The beneficial effects of algae in protecting the juvenile corals from parrotfish damage seem to be outweighed by the negative effects of the algae on coral–algal competition. Understanding such complexities in the interactions between algae and early life stages of corals can provide insight into the roles of algae in coral reef resilience.

KEY WORDS: Coral–algal competition · Parrotfish predation · Juvenile corals · Upwelling reef · Coral growth · Porites astreoides

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Cite this article as: Venera-Ponton DE, Diaz-Pulido G, McCook LJ, Rangel-Campo A (2011) Macroalgae reduce growth of juvenile corals but protect them from parrotfish damage. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 421:109-115.

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