, Volume 61, Issue 2-3, pp 167-177

The effect of micrograzers on algal community structure in a coral reef microcosm

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The effect of amphipod grazing on algal community structure was studied within a 75 l refuge tank connected to a 6500 l closed-system, coral reef microcosm. When amphipods (Ampithoe ramondi) were absent or present in low numbers, a high biomass of mostly filamentous algal species resulted, including Bryopsis hypnoides, Centroceras clavulatum, Ceramium flaccidum, Derbesia vaucheriaeformis, Enteromorpha prolifera, Giffordia rallsiae, and Polysiphonia havanensis. These microalgae disappeared when amphipod density increase beyond approximately 1 individual cm-2 of tank surface. The macroalga Hypnea spinella germinated in the system in association with amphipod tube sites. H. spinella plants remained rare until filamentous species were eliminated by amphipod grazing. Feeding trials confirmed that H. spinella was protected from grazing by its size rather than a chemical defense strategy. The H. spinella community we observed is similar to the flora described on algal ridges where physical conditions exclude fish grazing. We suggest that amphipods and similar micrograzers are responsible for the algal community structure of these ridges. Caging experiments may be subject to similar effects from increased amphipod grazing on the algae. Introduction of fish that are amphipod predators into the refuge tank caused an increase in algal species diversity but total H. spinella growth rates fell from 25 g dry wt month-1 to less than 8 g dry wt month-1. We describe amphipod behavior in relation to changes in population density and food supply, and we stress the potential for increasing the productivity of commercial seaweeds through maintenance of appropriate amphipod species in mariculture facilities.

Communicated by I. Morris, West Boothbay Harbor