MEPS 528:289-296 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11243

Negative effects of gardening damselfish Stegastes planifrons on coral health depend on predator abundance

M. J. A. Vermeij1,2,*, H. DeBey3, G. Grimsditch4, J. Brown5, D. Obura6, R. DeLeon7, S. A. Sandin8

1Carmabi Foundation, Piscaderabaai z/n, PO Box 2090, Willemstad, Curaçao
2Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) University of Amsterdam, Science Park 700, 1098 XH, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
3National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
4United Nations Environment Program, Nairobi, PO Box 30552-00100, Kenya
5The Nature Conservancy, 3052 Estate Little Princess, Christiansted, US Virgin Islands 00820
6CORDIO East Africa, Bamburi Beach, PO Box 10135, Mombasa 80101, Kenya
7Bonaire National Marine Park, Barcadera z/n, Kralendijk, Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean
8Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: On Bonaire, we studied the effects of predator abundance and habitat availability on the abundance of the threespot damselfish Stegastes planifrons, a species that creates algal gardens at the expense of live coral cover. Across 21 sites, predator biomass ranged from 12 to 193 g m-2 (mean = 55.1; SD = 49.1) and benthic cover of S. planifrons’ preferred habitat (corals of the Orbicella species complex) ranged from 2.2 to 38.0% (mean = 14.3; SD = 9.6). Across these gradients, the local abundance of S. planifrons was significantly and negatively related to predator biomass, but not to habitat availability. Increased local abundance of S. planifrons corresponded to an increasingly larger proportion of coral colonies affected by its ‘farming behavior’, resulting in an increased prevalence of coral disease. Thus, predators indirectly affected the composition of reef communities around Bonaire by controlling damselfish abundance. Furthermore, the abundance of S. planifrons could not be correlated with its preferred habitat, despite such correlations having been observed elsewhere in the Caribbean.


KEY WORDS: Stegastes planifrons · Bonaire · MPA · Prey release · Damselfish · Orbicella spp.


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Cite this article as: Vermeij MJA, DeBey H, Grimsditch G, Brown J, Obura D, DeLeon R, Sandin SA (2015) Negative effects of gardening damselfish Stegastes planifrons on coral health depend on predator abundance. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 528:289-296. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11243

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