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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 501:141-155 (2014)  -  DOI:

Quantifying patterns of fish herbivory on Palmyra Atoll (USA), an uninhabited predator-dominated central Pacific coral reef

Scott L. Hamilton1, Jennifer E. Smith2, Nichole N. Price2, Stuart A. Sandin2,*

1Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 8272 Moss Landing Rd., Moss Landing, California 95039, USA
2Center for Marine Biology and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: On many coral reefs, herbivorous fish play an essential role in regulating algal growth and influencing the outcome of coral-algal competition. Working on a remote predator-dominated coral reef on Palmyra Atoll, USA, we used behavioral foraging observations to quantify the roles of common parrotfish and surgeonfish in the roving herbivore guild. We recorded species-specific bite rates on different benthic organisms, quantified the relative abundance of those benthic organisms, and estimated benthos-specific grazing intensities as a function of bite rates, fish abundance, and percent cover. These grazing metrics were compared between the exposed fore reef (~10 m depth) and protected reef terrace (~5 m depth) habitats. We observed large differences in feeding rates and substrate selectivity among fish species. Most species fed predominately on algal turfs; however, some species foraged broadly among fleshy macroalgal taxa, while others specialized on calcified green algae of the genus Halimeda. The highest bite rates were recorded from species targeting algal turfs, while the highest rates of defecation were recorded from species targeting Halimeda. Per capita bite rates of all species were higher in the fore reef habitat (mean 45% more bites min-1); however, overall grazing intensities on turf algae (bites cm-2 d-1) were 5 times higher on the reef terrace than on the fore reef. Despite habitat-specific differences in the herbivore assemblages, the estimated distribution of total bites showed consistency among habitats, with strong guild-level positive foraging selectivity for algal turf. Comparisons of bite and defecation rate data for these herbivores across the Indo-Pacific highlight phylogenetic constraints on grazing activities. Overall, this study illustrates the importance of herbivore functional redundancy, variability in species-specific grazing, and provides a framework for assessing guild-wide grazing impacts on coral reefs.

KEY WORDS: Behavioral foraging observations · Bite rates · Defecation rates · Grazing impacts · Macroalgae · Parrotfish · Surgeonfish

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Cite this article as: Hamilton SL, Smith JE, Price NN, Sandin SA (2014) Quantifying patterns of fish herbivory on Palmyra Atoll (USA), an uninhabited predator-dominated central Pacific coral reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 501:141-155.

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