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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 460:1-12 (2012)  -  DOI:

Natural history of coral−algae competition across a gradient of human activity in the Line Islands

Katie L. Barott1,*, Gareth J. Williams2, Mark J. A. Vermeij3,4, Jill Harris2, Jennifer E. Smith2, Forest L. Rohwer1, Stuart A. Sandin2

1Biology Department, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California 92182, USA
2Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego,
9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92083, USA
3Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity (CARMABI), Piscaderabaai z/n, PO Box 2090, Willemstad, Curacao
4Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Science Park 700,
1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: Competition between corals and benthic algae is prevalent on coral reefs worldwide and has the potential to influence the structure of the reef benthos. Human activities may influence the outcome of these interactions by favoring algae to become the superior competitor, and this type of change in competitive dynamics is a potential mechanism driving coral−algal phase shifts. Here we surveyed the types and outcomes of coral interactions with benthic algae in the Line Islands of the Central Pacific. Islands ranged from nearly pristine to heavily fished. We observed major differences in the dominant groups of algae interacting with corals between sites, and the outcomes of coral−algal interactions varied across reefs on the different islands. Corals were generally better competitors against crustose coralline algae regardless of location, and were superior competitors against turf algae on reefs surrounding uninhabited islands. On reefs surrounding inhabited islands, however, turf algae were generally the superior competitors. When corals were broken down by size class, we found that the smallest and the largest coral colonies were the best competitors against algae; the former successfully fought off algae while being completely surrounded, and the latter generally avoided algal overgrowth by growing up above the benthos. Our data suggest that human disruption of the reef ecosystem may lead to a building pattern of competitive disadvantage for corals against encroaching algae, particularly turf algae, potentially initiating a transition towards algal dominance.

KEY WORDS: Crustose coralline algae · Turf algae · Macroalgae · Coral reef . Interaction · Line Islands

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Cite this article as: Barott KL, Williams GJ, Vermeij MJA, Harris J, Smith JE, Rohwer FL, Sandin SA (2012) Natural history of coral−algae competition across a gradient of human activity in the Line Islands. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 460:1-12.

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