, Volume 80, Issue 3, pp 331-340

Complex interactions in the control of coral zonation on a Caribbean reef flat

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This study uses short-term assays and long-term transplant experiments to document the potential importance of fish predation and herbivory to the distribution and abundance of reef-building corals in a Caribbean back-reef system. Experimental manipulations of fish access reveal that the zonal patterns of the two reef-building corals Porites astreoides and P. porites f. furcata, dominant on shallow back-reef habitats, are strongly associated with the feeding intensity of parrotfishes. Differential palatability of the two corals to parrotfishes, the proximity of protective cover for large grazers and the availability of small refugia to harbor a cryptic grazer fauna are suggested as major features contributing to the observed patterns. A model predicting the interactions of various algivore/corallivore guilds on the relative dominance of Porites and algal populations is presented.