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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 637:1-14 (2020)  -  DOI:

Species-specific effects of herbivorous fishes on the establishment of the macroalga Lobophora on coral reefs

Laura D. Puk1,2,*, Nicole Cernohorsky3, Alyssa Marshell4, John Dwyer1, Kennedy Wolfe1,2, Peter J. Mumby1,2,5

1School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
2ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville 4811, QLD, Australia
3Department of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University, 61137 Brno, Czech Republic
4Department of Marine Science and Fisheries, Sultan Qaboos University, 123 Muscat, Oman
5Palau International Coral Reef Center, PO Box 7096, Koror 96940, Republic of Palau
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Herbivory is a key ecosystem function that influences ecosystem trajectories. However, interactions between plants and herbivores are species-specific and change throughout the plants’ lifetime. On coral reefs, herbivorous fishes reduce competition between corals and macroalgae through their grazing activity, thereby regulating the ecosystem state. Grazing vulnerability of marine algae generally decreases with increasing algal size. Therefore, the removal of newly settled recruits by herbivorous fish is likely important in preventing macroalgal blooms and reducing competition with corals. We studied the grazing susceptibility of recruits of the brown macroalga Lobophora to multiple fish species through a combination of feeding observations and manipulative in situ and ex situ experiments. Further, we recorded short-term Lobophora growth patterns and adult survival over 9 wk. Lobophora recruits were more susceptible to herbivory than adults, likely owing to their smaller size. However, recruit mortality was driven by only 3 of the studied species: Acanthurus nigrofuscus, Scarus niger and Chlorurus spilurus, whereas other common herbivores did not remove any Lobophora recruits. Our data also suggest variable growth and recruitment among months. These findings point to a possible increase in grazing resistance with age for Lobophora. As such, a decrease in grazing pressure by key fish species controlling Lobophora recruits could permit Lobophora to establish more grazing-tolerant adult populations.

KEY WORDS: Ontogeny · Algae · Herbivory · Phase shift · Seaweed · Diversity · Propagule

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Cite this article as: Puk LD, Cernohorsky N, Marshell A, Dwyer J, Wolfe K, Mumby PJ (2020) Species-specific effects of herbivorous fishes on the establishment of the macroalga Lobophora on coral reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 637:1-14.

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