Coral settlement onto Halimeda opuntia: a fatal attraction to an ephemeral substrate?
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- Nugues, M.M. & Szmant, A.M. Coral Reefs (2006) 25: 585. doi:10.1007/s00338-006-0147-0
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Degraded reefs with a high abundance of macroalgae usually also have low densities of coral recruits. Few studies, however, have examined whether these algae affect coral larval settlement. This study demonstrates, experimentally, that larvae of the Caribbean coral Favia fragrum can settle on the green alga Halimeda opuntia even when another substrate more suitable for settlement is present. Larval settlement onto experimental substrates was quantified under three treatments: rubble only, rubble plus plastic algal mimic, and rubble plus live H. opuntia. Similar total larval settlement was observed in all treatments. No larvae settled on the algal mimic, but total settlement was similar on the rubble in the first two treatments, showing that the rubble alone offered sufficient substrate for high settlement success. About half the larvae in the live algal treatment settled on H. opuntia instead of on the rubble, showing that larvae did not reject this substrate as they did the algal mimic. This result raises the possibility that corals will settle on some macroalgae when their abundance is high. Most macroalgae, including H. opuntia, are ephemeral substrates unsuitable for post-settlement survival. Such unexpected settlement may therefore have significant consequences for coral recruitment success on algal-dominated reefs.