, Volume 157, Issue 5, pp 955-965

Seasonality and dynamics in coral reef macroalgae: variation in condition and susceptibility to herbivory

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Abstract

Seasonal variation in coral reef macroalgal size and condition is well documented, yet seasonal variability of herbivory on macroalgae by coral reef fishes is unknown. Herbivore feeding intensity was quantified monthly on an inner-shelf reef on the Great Barrier Reef, using Sargassum bioassays. Removal rates of transplants displayed high levels of variation with significantly higher rates of removal during the summer months. Differences in Sargassum plant size and condition suggest that the variability in herbivore feeding intensity is attributed primarily to the variation in the condition of the macroalgae, especially epiphyte loads. The dramatic changes in macroalgal removal reveal a considerable decrease in herbivore activity in the winter. This highlights the clear distinction between ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ months in terms of reef processes, emphasizing the high seasonal variation in macroalgal removal rates at different time of the year.

Communicated by D. Goulet.