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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 486:153-164 (2013)  -  DOI:

Herbivores strongly influence algal recruitment in both coral- and algal-dominated coral reef habitats

Christopher Doropoulos1,2,*, Glenn A. Hyndes2, David Abecasis3, Adriana Vergés2,4,5

1School of Biological Sciences and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane 4072, Australia
2Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research, School of Natural Sciences, Edith Cowan University, 270 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, Western Australia 6027, Australia
3Centro de Ciências do Mar da Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas 8005-139 Faro, Portugal
4Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation and Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia
5Sydney Institute of Marine Science, Mosman, New South Wales 2088, Australia

ABSTRACT: Coral reefs can exist as coral- and macroalgae-dominated habitats often separated by only a few hundred metres. While herbivorous fish are known to depress the abundance of algae and help maintain the function of coral-dominated habitats, less is known about their influence in algae-dominated habitats. Here, we quantified herbivorous fish and benthic algal communities over a 6 mo period in coral-dominated (back-reef) and algal-dominated (lagoon) habitats in a relatively undisturbed fringing coral reef (Ningaloo, Western Australia). Simultaneously, we tested the effects of herbivorous fish on algal recruitment in both habitats using recruitment tiles and fish exclusion cages. The composition of established algal communities differed consistently between habitats, with the back-reef hosting a more diverse community than the Sargassum-dominated lagoon. However, total algal biomass and cover only differed between habitats in autumn, coinciding with maximum Sargassum biomass. The back-reef hosted high coral cover and a diverse herbivorous fish community, with herbivore biomass an order of magnitude greater than the lagoon. Despite these differences in herbivore composition, exclusion of large herbivores had a similar positive effect to foliose macroalgae recruitment on experimental tiles in both back-reef and lagoon habitats. Additionally, territorial damselfish found in the back-reef increased turf algae cover and decreased crustose coralline algae cover on recruitment tiles. Collectively, our results show that disparate herbivorous fish communities in coral- and algae-dominated habitats are similarly able to limit the recruitment of foliose macroalgae, but suggest that when herbivorous fish biomass and diversity are relatively low, macroalgal communities are able to escape herbivore control through increased growth.

KEY WORDS: Functional group · Recruitment · Macroalgae · Sargassum · Turf algae · Crustose coralline algae · Ecosystem function · Ningaloo

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Cite this article as: Doropoulos C, Hyndes GA, Abecasis D, Vergés A (2013) Herbivores strongly influence algal recruitment in both coral- and algal-dominated coral reef habitats. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 486:153-164.

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